A Roanoke law firm has told the county that its interpretation on how to change the government is incorrect, but the county disagrees.
The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors has been researching the possibility of removing the treasurer and commissioner of revenue positions as elected officials by changing the county’s type of government.
The issue first arose back in September when Chairman Chris Tuck asked fellow supervisors whether they would be interested in studying the possible benefits of changing the type of government that would put the two offices under one roof.
He said he is giving a presentation on the matter not as chairman, but as a citizen at Monday’s regular meeting. Tuck would not give any details as to the nature of his presentation, and told the News Messenger “you will have to come to Monday’s meeting to find out.”
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, giving him oversight of the director of finance, who would replace both the treasurer and the commissioner of revenue. Meadows would still, ultimately, answer to the supervisors.
It is the duty of the commissioner of revenue’s office to assess the value of property taxes in the county while the treasurer’s office is responsible for collecting those taxes.
Commissioner of Revenue Helen Royal and Treasurer Richard Shelton have said that they are vehemently against the idea of making the positions appointive or of consolidating the offices.
They have questioned the idea of the same office both assessing and collecting taxes, and see it as an obvious conflict of interest.
The board has heard from government officials that have alternate forms of government like Albemarle and Prince William County, as well as from Roanoke County Treasurer Kevin Hutchins and Staunton Commissioner of Revenue and President of the Chamber of Commerce Association, Maggie Ragon.
Both Hutchins and Ragon also advised against changing the form of government.
“It’s not the way the things were set up to work,” she told the News Messenger in February. “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 spoken in favor of the change at any of the supervisors’ meetings.
Tuck has been the driving force behind the inquiries, so it is likely that his Monday presentation will be in favor of making the change. He has pointed to the fact that Shelton has not had a tax sale in 11 years.
Tax sales are done to collect delinquent property and real estate taxes in the county.
Shelton is in the process of doing a tax sale, something he said he did twice in his first three years as treasurer.
He said that he hadn’t done another one until now because County Attorney Marty McMahon had not had the time to prepare the sale for almost eight years, and in 2014 when he wanted to do a sale with the help of an outside firm, he and the board could not come to an agreement on which law firm to use.
Tuck recently criticized Shelton for the law firm he’s chosen for the current tax sale, which should start yielding returns for the county by May or June according to Shelton.
Tuck said that Christiansburg law office Sands Anderson (that is a branch of a larger Richmond-based firm) was willing to do the work at no cost to the county. The firm makes its money by charging citizens delinquent in taxes with court costs.
Shelton said that he chose a different law firm in Richmond (Taxing Authority Consulting Services, P.C.) because they were more compatible with the county’s system and they would charge the delinquent citizens less money in court costs, while also not costing the county any money.
Shelton said that saving the county taxpayers money was something that Tuck failed to address when mentioning the topic at the March 26 supervisors meeting.
Tuck has also mentioned that the Shelton and Royal’s strained relationship has hurt both offices’ productivity, which both constitutional officers deny.
Shelton and Royal will be giving a joint presentation at Monday’s meeting about how the offices work together and that their “strained relationship” has been overblown, Royal told the News Messenger.
The supervisors may vote on whether it wants to continue down the path of changing government types Monday after the presentations, or at its meeting on April 23, Meadows said.
According to McMahon’s interpretation of the Virginia statute, 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.
That interpretation has sparked some debate with law firm LeClairRyan of Roanoke on behalf of the Treasurers Association of Virginia and the Virginia Association of Local Elected Constitutional Officers.
There is no gray area on how the form of government would ultimately be changed. That would occur from citizens voting in favor of the referendum in the 2019 election. Rather, the disagreement resides on how to get the referendum on the ballot in the first place.
The law firm sent a letter to the county last week stating that in addition to approval by the supervisors, the referendum can only be put on the ballot if 20 percent of registered voters in the county that voted in the 2016 presidential election also sign a petition in favor of adding it. The letter calculates that number to be 8,607 citizens.
County spokesperson Jennifer Harris said that the county has not responded to the law firm yet, but the county stands behind it original interpretation of the statute.
When asked by the News Messenger whether or not proceeding with only the supervisors’ approval could result in litigation, Harris said, “It’s possible.”
Of course, the county’s legal interpretation of the statute will be moot if the supervisors decide not to move forward with the change.
Citizens are encouraged to come and share their thoughts on the matter during the public address portion of Monday’s meeting beginning at 7:15 p.m. at the Montgomery County Government Center.
For a look at Monday’s meeting agenda, go to www.boarddocs.com/va/montva/Board.nsf/Public. For information on how to contact supervisors in your district, visit www.montva.com.