Paying taxes is surely everyone’s least favorite government-related activity. But also a subject everyone talks about. Taxes are a necessary requirement for government to function properly. And as someone who pays taxes along with you, we should expect our elected officials to be wise and prudent on how they spend our money.
But what does that look like? What fiscal policies should Botetourt County follow to make sure our tax money is spent responsibly and correctly?
The Republican Party of Virginia contains the foundation for good government spending in its Republican Creed, which I follow to the best of my ability as a Republican. Point No. 3 of the creed states, “We believe that fiscal responsibility and budgetary restraints must be exercised at all levels of government.” That includes Botetourt County.
Fiscal responsibility has several definitions, but they are all similar. To paraphrase, fiscal responsibility implies a government pursues the appropriate fiscal policy in spending and tax to (1) Maintain sustainable public finances, (2) Ensure fiscal policy aids the optimal rate of economic growth, and (3) Maintain appropriate levels of public investment, which I define as Safety, Education, Infrastructure, Quality of Life and Economic Development.
As for budgetary restraint, the definition of restraint is a condition that keeps something under control or within limits. So, budget restraint in this context means that decisions are made within the financial limitations of the budget, which the county does very well every year.
Four years ago, I began my first term in the middle of the county’s budget approval process. What I discovered was a lack of clear and forward thinking fiscal policy within the county. The county’s primary source of revenue was on the backs of citizens in the form of real estate and personal property, spending was not scrutinized, and capital projects were started without a long-term strategic vision that resulted in continuous spending on projects without any return on the investment of our tax money. An example of this is the Botetourt Sports Complex.
This nationally acclaimed sports venue is a great asset for the county, and I am committed to maintaining it as such. But I discovered that players, teams and families were playing and attending tournaments at the complex, but mostly going to Roanoke to stay at their hotels, eat at their restaurants and shop in their stores. The Sports Complex became a great tourism asset for Roanoke, paid for by Botetourt County citizens. Past leadership and their policies also resulted in numerous county budgets that were only balanced by taking money out of the county’s General Fund, or our savings; a practice that is not sustainable nor fiscally responsible.
Over the last four years, guided by a strategic vision that this noard created, the county has reversed many of the policies of the past. By establishing better vision, better policies and better procedures, we completed a comprehensive review of every budget in the county, established better oversight of expenditures and put a hold on capital projects that were not ready to move forward. These actions resulted in numerous positive results for the county, to include savings in operational and travel budgets across the county and the first balanced budget for both the county and school system in the same year, something that has not happened in numerous years. We also restructured our lodging tax that resulted in an immediate and reoccurring $70,000 per year savings for the county, plus additional yearly revenue in lodging and meals tax.
All these strategic and long-term actions have set the conditions to re-align the county’s revenue picture, and move us forward without that burden being put on our citizens. We have the opportunity to reduce our reliability on real estate and personal property tax by growing the tax base with industry, retail and sales, lodging and food service. This shift takes time, but we have already seen it start with the opening of Ballast Point, the soon to open Eldor, the construction of the shell building and the opportunity to turn Exit 150 into a destination stop along Interstate 81, all of which are funded with little to none of your county taxes. If we continue to foster these and the new opportunities that will come to Botetourt, the county will be in a better position to meet our obligations to provide services such as police protection, education, social service programs, infrastructure improvements and quality of life programs.
There is more work to do, and more opportunities that Botetourt must take advantage of in the future. I take my fiscal responsibility as your elected official very serious. Because it is not just your tax money, it is our tax money since I pay taxes every year, too. We must not miss these important opportunities to grow our tax base in other areas besides our citizens’ real estate and personal property taxes. It is time Botetourt taxpayers begin to see a return on their investment from the millions spent to create Botetourt Center at Greenfield and the Sports Complex. The county’s fiscal policy has long lasting impact. We have taken steps that will serve this county well into the future. And I will continue the work that this board has started, and to make sure this county stays fiscally responsible with not only your taxes, but your children’s taxes as they raise their families in this great county.
Board of Supervisors