After tabling the discussion for nearly three months, the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors reopened the issue of whether or not to pursue removing the county treasurer and commissioner of revenue positions as elected officials at its Feb. 12 meeting.
The discussion first arose in September when Chairman Chris Tuck (District B) brought the idea to the board as a way to possibly save the county money streamlining the offices into one.
It is the duty of the commissioner of revenue’s office to assess the value of properties taxed in the county, while the treasurer’s office is responsible for collecting those taxes.
County Treasurer Richard Shelton and Commissioner of Revenue Helen Royal have opposed the idea of combining the roles, despite each of them saying that they will not be seeking reelection in 2019.
In order to change the structure of these offices, the county would have to technically change its form of government. County Administrator Craig Meadows would become the county executive, having oversight over the director of finance, who would replace both the treasurer and the commissioner of revenue. Meadows would still ultimately answer to the board of supervisors.
Royal, who was at the most recent meeting, believes that it would be consolidating too much power with the supervisors.
“You shouldn’t have the people in charge of spending the taxpayers money also in charge of assessing property values. It’s a conflict of interest in my opinion,” she said.”
The President of the Chamber of Commerce Association Maggie Ragon, who is also the commissioner of revenue for the City of Staunton, echoed that point in a presentation to the board.
“It’s not the way the things were set up to work,” she told the News Messenger earlier this week. “If they (the supervisors) did want to remove them as constitutional officers, it should be a grassroots effort coming from the citizens. That has not been the case,” she said.
No citizens have spoke in favor of the move, and, in fact, a few people spoke out against the move during the public address portion of the meeting.
According to County Attorney Marty McMahon, in order for the positions to no longer be elected ones, the board would need to have a majority vote in favor of adding a referendum to the ballot, which if passed, would not appear until November 2019 when both positions are up for reelection.
Kevin Hutchins, the former president of the Treasurers Association of Virginia and Roanoke County treasurer, gave a presentation following Ragon’s and echoed the importance of the office being separate in order to ensure that the citizens have a say in who is collecting their taxes.
Hutchins said it became clear that the office of the treasurer was of particular concern to the supervisors, particularly Chairman Chris Tuck.
“The line of questioning seemed to be a direct line of questioning towards the treasurer’s performance,” Hutchins said.
Tuck mentioned the fact that the county had more delinquent tax revenue than he thought was acceptable and questioned whether there were rules pertaining to whether or not elected officials have to be in the office for a set amount of hours or day a year—they do not according to Hutchins.
Tuck also said that he was disappointed that Shelton did not put the county’s banking out to bid, instead choosing a bank on his own. Tuck believes that the county may have been able to receive a higher interest rate than it currently does.
According to county spokesperson Jennifer Harris, as of June 30, the delinquent taxes for real estate was $1,078,627 and for all personal property it was $2,199,578.
Shelton said he was not at the meeting, because he was on a planned vacation and was not notified that the presentations were on the agenda before he left.
Shelton returned to the office yesterday morning and did not want to comment on what was said at the meeting without watching it himself.
However, he did offer a response to the claims that his office may not be pursuing delinquent tax revenue as aggressively as it could be.
“There are always back taxes in a locality, but we have one of the best collection rates in the state,” he said.
Shelton also went on to say that he is proud of the work his office has done since taking office in 2004.
“The office will be in much better shape when I leave than when I took it over,” he said.
Tuck told the News Messenger last week that bringing up the possible change was not a personal attack on Royal or Shelton, but an opportunity for the county to move forward.
“If either of them said they were going to run again, I would have had serious reservations about pursuing this, because I wouldn’t want it to be seen as partisan,” he said. “There is nothing personal about this.”
Tuck is a Republican and both Shelton and Royal are Democrats.
Tuck also said that he has not made his mind up about which way he would vote, because he still wants to hear from officials in Albemarle County, a locality that has removed the positions in favor of an appointed director of finance.
“I want to see how it is working for them before making a definitive decision,” he said.
Tuck said that the presentation is likely to take place at Monday’s meeting, and a vote by the supervisors on whether to put the referendum on the 2019 ballot could come as soon as the March 12 regular meeting.
He said if the measure were voted down, he would likely not pursue the issue again.
“You vote and you move on. At least we will have checked it out,” he said.
April Demotts said that from everything she has heard so far, she would vote against putting the referendum on the ballot, but still would like to hear from Albemarle officials as well.
“I have said all along that I have significant reservations about removing the will of the electorate in the process of collecting and assessing taxes,” she said.
Demotts also said that she is hesitant about consolidating so much power with the board of supervisors, who essentially would be in control of assessing, collecting and spending the county’s taxes.
Additionally, if the referendum were to pass in the 2019 election, all supervisors would be up for reelection the following year as opposed to the staggered system in place now.
Demotts did say that she does not know enough about the process of collecting delinquent taxes to have an opinion on the matter, but plans on learning about the subject before voting.
“Our revenue estimates are lower than expected this year and we need to figure out a way to fund our schools and our government properly,” she said. If we are owed money in the form of delinquent taxes, we need to attempt to collect it.”
The commissioner of revenue and treasurer are elected in 36 cities and 91 counties across the Commonwealth.
The cities of Alexandria and Richmond, and the counties of Albemarle, Fairfax, Prince William and Henrico adopted alternative forms of government, which do not require the election of these Constitutional Officers.
In 1973, Roanoke County citizens voted to adopt an alternative form of government and to eliminate the COR and Treasurer. Three years later, the citizens voted to bring the elected offices back.
At press time, Harris said that Albemarle officials had not confirmed whether they would be able to attend Monday’s meeting or not. The official agenda comes out today.
Citizens are encouraged to come and share their thoughts on the matter during the public address portion of the meeting.
For a look at Monday’s meeting agenda, or for information on how to contact supervisors in your district, visit www.montva.com.