EDITORIAL: The Worst Tax

June 28, 2013

Last night as this was being written, Cape Charles Town Council was approving the new budget, including new water/sewer rates.

Even though reassessed property values dropped 35 percent on average, Town Council still felt it was OK to increase our tax bills.

At the County level, elected officials didn’t see it that way, and voted a slight tax decrease. But rather than following suit, our Town officials viewed the County tax decrease as justification for raising Town taxes. After all, they told us, your combined County/Town tax bills are likely to be less than last year’s.

Yes, and with property values down 35 percent, they certainly should be!

The new budget is further evidence that Town Council doesn’t control Town staff – quite the reverse. During the budget planning process, Council instructed staff to produce an “equalized” budget – one that would not require a tax increase.

But Town staff disobeyed orders – as if they had been asked to perform the impossible. And Town Council, like an indulgent parent, gave in.


What “necessities” are requiring a tax increase? There’s not space to detail them, so one will have to suffice: the Town is budgeting $40,000 to create handicapped access to the old library building (now vacant).

The irony is overwhelming – a Town whose municipal offices can be reached only by a steep staircase is raising taxes to create handicapped access for a vacant building which, during all the years it was the library, had no handicapped access.

If the Town really cared about handicapped access it could have relocated its municipal offices to the ground floor of the Old School – but instead, officials remodeled their horribly inaccessible second-floor offices on Plum Street.

But Town property taxes pale in comparison with the worst tax of all – our “water bills.”

The new utility rates, especially the 72 percent increase in sewer charges, are claimed to be the price for products and service received, but it’s really not. The “water bill” is a tax, pure and simple. That’s because you can’t avoid paying it, no matter how little water you use.

The Town utility bill is the worst tax because it is the most regressive tax imaginable. Rich or poor, everyone pays the same criminally high “monthly minimum charge” for utilities.

Suppose you are an elderly woman living alone in a humble dwelling on the north side of town, relying on Social Security. You have no dishwasher, no washing machine, and you never water your lawn. It doesn’t matter — your utility bill is $108 a month.

Wait more than 21 days to pay your bill and there’s a 10 percent late fee. Miss another month and there’s a $30 penalty – on top of getting your water turned off.

Don’t have a checking account and have to pay your water bill with cash? The office is on the second floor – watch your step.

Our mayor suggests that unfortunate persons who cannot pay their utility bill should apply for social services. “Let them eat cake.”

But what if there were a better way – what if the Town could reduce monthly minimum utility charges for everyone?

As the Wave reported yesterday, if the Town required Bayshore Concrete Products to use Town water and sewerage, everyone would benefit from increased efficiencies. And while Bayshore would doubtlessly balk at the Town’s ridiculously high water rates, what if they could use the Town’s treated wastewater, as was suggested almost 17 years ago?

And if the Town’s water is not good enough for Bayshore, at least they could use our fancy new wastewater treatment plant and save the Bay.

Our Town needs to learn that there are more ways to solve a problem than just throwing money at it. But unless and until residents put up a squawk, it will be business as usual.



11 Responses to “

EDITORIAL: The Worst Tax”

  1. Nancy Garrett on June 28th, 2013 6:58 am

    And Cape Charles wants Cheriton to hook up to their water? What a laugh!! Why should we?

  2. Kearn Schemm on June 28th, 2013 6:59 am

    Excellent editorial. Time to take some political action.

  3. Spencer Murray on June 28th, 2013 7:35 am

    Fact check: The county DID increase the tax rate significantly to offset revenue loss from lowered property assessments. There was a slight decrease to the increased rate after the public hearing and before the final BOS vote. Some property owners received tax increases despite lower assessments.

    You are correct, but our reference to “taxes” means dollar amounts, not rates. Both County and Town raised tax rates significantly, but the resulting dollar amounts are slightly less than last year for the County but more than last year for the Town, on average. Some property owners fell outside the average. –EDITOR

  4. Deborah Bender on June 28th, 2013 8:33 am

    Nancy — you are so right! Why in the world would Cheriton want to get into the mess we are in. Keep up the fight and don’t give in to the crazy mess we are in with our town.

    Spencer — thank goodness the county actually listens to the citizens, because Cape Charles couldn’t care less how many citizens they ignore and walk all over!

    For all of the citizens of Cape Charles reading this: Wake up people!
    These people running this town will break it financially before this is over. “These people” will go to any lengths to get what they want. They have got this town into massive debt and now because of their mistakes the unfortunate landowners of Cape Charles have to pay huge sewer bills to cover the current managers’ and town council’s mistakes. Believe me when I say this town needs a major change in government if we are to be able to survive :-(

  5. Spencer Murray on June 28th, 2013 8:49 am

    Thanks, “revenues” would have avoided the confusion.
    Your understanding of the numbers is totally accurate.

    Thank you sir — we will add “revenues” to our lexicon! — EDITOR

  6. Randy Gibson on June 28th, 2013 10:12 am

    All good points. I can not believe $40,000 for a wheelchair ramp. Pure Craziness.
    PS: I’d like that job! RG

  7. Bob Meyers on June 28th, 2013 10:21 am

    Deborah, you and Kearn have certainly recognized a problem with the local government. Every time a new outrage is exposed by the excellent editorial work, one name keeps bubbling to the top as the idea person behind the latest incompetence. Your displeasure may be well served to start a careful and through examination of that person’s activities. I would not be surprised if you arrived at a conclusion that the town staff may make better decisions with one member less.

  8. George Ferguson on June 29th, 2013 12:28 pm

    Last week I was in Miami with my son (who also owns a home on Jefferson Avenue). He along with myself can’t understand the water bill in Cape Charles. He has a 5-bedroom home with 3 full baths, a large inground pool, and waters his yard everyday with an automatic system that comes on in the evenings. He has to add water to the pool once a week, and washes his boat at the house after fishing. His water bill runs about $81 — not a month but a QUARTER, and people talk about how expensive it is to live in Miami!

  9. Roger L. Munz on July 1st, 2013 2:44 am

    Cape Charles is a small town, but it is being run by “big government” politicians. A big government spends other people’s money, and they are conditioned to always believe there will be more. So they spend like drunken sailors.

    A small town like ours cannot afford to conduct business this way, for it will end up in serious debt — or what Cape Charles is facing now. If the current Town Council members are not replaced soon, the Town will surely continue to suffer one debt crisis after another, with the taxpayers having to bail the Town out again and again. It must stop. Common sense and budgetary restraint must be returned to Cape Charles.

    I have always said, “Cape Charles: the way a small town should be,” but I can no longer proclaim this as a truth. It is a sad day for the populace of our town.

  10. Gene Kelly on July 1st, 2013 10:10 am

    Roger, Roger! Well put!

  11. Roger L. Munz on July 3rd, 2013 11:59 pm

    “The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance.” – Cicero , 55 BC

    So, evidently we’ve learned nothing in the past 2,000-plus years.