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Clifton Forge Proposes Big Real Estate, Personal Property Tax Increases
Cites Potential Losses In Meals, Sales Taxes

Clifton Forge, VA (May 12, 2020) - Clifton Forge Town Council has proposed increases in real estate and personal property taxes, as well as an increase in water and sewer charges, for the 2020-21 budget, to offset a projected drastic reduction in revenue, due to the COVID-19 quarantine.

Council heard from Finance Director LeeAnna Tyler during their regular meeting Tuesday night (May 12) via teleconference that according to the Virginia Municipal League, the town can expect a shortfall of $90,000 in revenue for this fiscal year, and next year, a shortfall of $145,000, due to decreases in revenues from the meals, lodging and sales taxes, as well as business licenses, mainly because restaurants and other businesses have been closed by executive order.

Tyler said that even though many cuts have been made in departmental budgets, she and Town Manager Darlene Burcham have recommended a 5 cent increase in real estate taxes from 21 to 26 cents per $100 (23.8% increase); a 30-cent increase (8.96%) in personal property taxes, to offset repealing the vehicle license tax; and an increase of $1 to the water and sewer bill, taking the monthly fee from $110 to $111.

Tyler noted that the real estate tax has not been raised since 2008, and the personal property tax has not changed in 20 years.

She said that although town departments have made cuts, residents receive many benefits, paid for by those taxes. Included on that list: police and fire protection, 25/7; a public works department that does road repairs as well as other maintenance; a library that is still lending out books; and street lights.

Last night was the first reading of the almost $6.3 million budget; a second reading is scheduled May 26.

“Council hates to increase taxes, but these are the recommendations,” says Vice Mayor Pam Marshall. “Because of COVID-19, we’ve lost revenue, and this is the only way for us to move forward.”

Council member Dr. Ron Goings agreed, pointing out that the increase in personal property will offset the repeal of the town vehicle tax, which also had a first reading last night.

In other business, during the public comment portion of the meeting, three letters, all voicing concerns about the make-up and operation of the Clifton Forge Armory Committee, were read. The letters were from William Atherholt, Don Roberts and Charlie Kahle.

Council members David Oltjen and Dr. Goings both suggested coming up with an agreement to make the workings of the Armory Committee more transparent. “We keep getting comments about this committee, and we need to have complete transparency,” said Oltjen.

Mayor Jeff Irvine, following a public comment request from Diana Kling Smith, and after a bit of discussion, revealed the names of the five members of the Citizens Advisory Committee, which has been advising council during the interview process for a new town manager. Town attorney Jared Jenkins recommended making the names of the members public. Those five members are Brandon Caldwell, Greg Madsen, Melissa Hundley, Adam Kenny and Ingrid Barber.

Council also held a first reading and public hearing on two ordinances: to vacate a portion of a town-owned alley to Randall and Ingrid Barber for $500; and to grant an easement through Matthews Park for access to adjacent privately-owned parcels. Burcham explained that the request was made by a private landowner (Susan Wallace), because the park has been closed.

A letter was read from Gayle Hillert, of the Historic Masonic Theatre Preservation Foundation, to consider non-profit organizations when applying for Community Development Block Grants; public comments from Betty Johnson of 613 Pine Street, who asked council to provide a location when considering real estate transactions (such as vacating the alley).

During council comments:

Council member Bob Umstead thanked Burcham and Tyler for their work on the budget.

Council member Oltjen encouraged residents to wear masks when out in public, and reiterated his proposal to make the Armory Committee more transparent.

Council member Goings reminded everyone that the library is still lending books, and that the library’s card catalogue is online.

Vice Mayor Marshall reiterated her remarks about regretting the tax increases, and thanked Tyler and Burcham for their work on the budget.

Mayor Jeff Irvine thanked all of the town employees for continuing to work and provide town services.

Council went in to executive session and will meet again May 26.

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