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Pyles: Increasing meal tax is hard to swallow

Pyles: Increasing meal tax is hard to swallow

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Past mistakes by Augusta County supervisors are again costing their people. This time it is $100,000, for committing to buy buildings in Staunton; that they now can’t use. Unfortunately, this is not the first time poor decisions by the supervisors are at Augusta taxpayer expense.

Tracy Pyles column sig

Tracy Pyles

In the first year of their four-year terms, Supervisors Carter, Garber, and Shull acted petulantly in firing the county’s fire chief for carrying out the board’s directions. They misrepresented his leaving as a voluntary retirement. Yet they paid out over $100,000 to prevent a potential lawsuit and bad press.

The board tried to hide this seeming “hush money” by asserting the personnel exemption to the Freedom of Information Act. It took referencing a Virginia Supreme Court decision, ruling otherwise, to bring what they meant to keep hidden to light.

Of course, $100,000 here and $100,000 there are but trifles for this Board. In wasting the $1,304,643.26 paid to Mosely Architects for Courthouse plans now trashed, this fully Republican board embarrassed their party and insulted Augusta taxpayers whose hard-earned money they misappropriated.

Besides being disappointed, the sadder aspect is the five fire trucks, 20 school buses, or multiple cell towers that might have, otherwise, been secured.

Twice now this board has piddled away earnings of Augusta workers because they had adopted a “ready, shoot, aim” philosophy for public projects instead of what used to be: “due diligence.”

A similar deviation from logic and tradition was on display last week when the supervisors chose to increase the county’s meal and lodging levies. The increase of these taxes was done without saying how much money would be secured or how it would be used.

Are we not to know why the board is demanding more of our money? Of course we are. But answering to the people is not in this board’s make-up. What we were given instead were supervisor opinions of dubious value.

Supervisor Butch Wells in supporting the meals and lodging tax increases said paying them was simply a matter of choosing. “People have a choice on whether they want to go out and have a meal and citizens have a choice on whether they want to stay in a hotel or not.” To which I say, “nope.” Eating is not a choice. It is a matter of survival. Going out is what happens when you have to go to work, or school or shopping for groceries.

Yes, if you are retired with good pensions you can make a decision whether to go to the Red Lobster or not. But most of the revenue comes from the fast food restaurants feeding us as we continue on with life. Donna Reed is no longer packing our lunches before we leave the house. She had to go to work to help pay all the taxes.

Wayne supervisor Scott Seaton was on the right side of this vote but used faulty justification in voting against. “Predictive models do not show revenue increases when you raise taxes on these industries.”

Dr. Seaton believes increasing taxes will result in decreased revenue. Of course this “predictive model” is bonkers.

The county administrator said as much in his budget narrative when he calculated the estimated impact of the 50% increases. Meals revenue would go up $1,250,000 and lodging $187,500. My predictive model believes both of these numbers will be exceeded because next year will be better for restaurants and motels than this year has been.

Again, eating is not a choice nor is paying the taxes.

If the board wanted to do something helpful, with this new taxing authority, these funds could be used to offset Augusta property tax by reducing from $.63 to $61. But to just take more and more is not right.

How many tax increases, how much waste, are Augusta’s Republican voters going to excuse because they are being abused by their own? These local tax increases, this continual flushing away of our people’s money is not on Democrats, independents or Green Party members as they hold no offices.

If each of the supervisors was charged with being a fiscal conservative, would there be enough evidence to convict even one of them?

Tracy Pyles, a former chairman and member of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors who lives in Augusta County, is a columnist for The News Virginian. His column is published Saturdays.

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