SHORE THING: A$K the Mayor

Cape Charles Wave

November 14, 2013

Before I started causing trouble in Cape Charles, I was causing trouble in Northern Virginia. Over the years we lived in the City of Alexandria, the County of Arlington, the County of Fairfax, and the City of Falls Church. Each of those municipalities offers many attractions, but there is one thing none of them has that Cape Charles does have: double taxation.

That’s right. In Virginia, if you live in a city you pay city taxes; if you live in a county you pay county taxes. Only in towns is there an opportunity to pay double taxes.

There is a little town in Fairfax County with the prestigious name of Vienna. One day I called the Town of Vienna’s information officer to ask: Why does it cost the taxpayer 22 percent more to live in Vienna than just outside the town line in Fairfax County? She immediately answered: “Access — you can call the Mayor on a Sunday afternoon.”

Vienna’s real estate tax rate is 22.88 cents per hundred dollars. Cape Charles, at 27.74 cents, is 17 percent higher. So – if you see where I’m going with this – shouldn’t my mayoral access be mighty good here in Cape Charles?

I had a question for Mayor Sullivan last July. The Town Gazette had just published a “Message from the Mayor” (click here to read) stating that “the Water and Sewer Fund broke even over the last three fiscal years.” I asked the Mayor how that could be, when the 2013 budget showed that the Water and Sewer Fund required a transfer of $172,500 from the General Fund. The Mayor deigned not to answer my question. (Perhaps I should have called her on a Sunday afternoon.)

So I asked our Town Manager, Heather Arcos. To her credit, she said she would check and get back to me. The next day – well, let the emails tell the story:


For readers who made it this far, tell me — did I get my $87.66 worth? Because that’s what the Town charged me for asking the Mayor a question — a question that required 3.5 staff hours to document that “the last three fiscal years” doesn’t include the most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2013.

The Assistant Town Manager took half an hour to write that, the Clerk spent half an hour on the email, and the Treasurer devoted 2 1/2 hours to find the same information Mr. Panek said was “pulled” from the audit reports for the Mayor’s Message.

And yes, I learned my lesson — no further questions, Madame Mayor.

SHORE THING is an occasional feature of the Cape Charles Wave.



16 Responses to “SHORE THING: A$K the Mayor”

  1. Jens Reinke on November 14th, 2013 3:19 am

    Asking questions costs money now? I’ll tell my kids. Absurd.

  2. Deborah Bender on November 14th, 2013 5:57 am

    Good luck getting any information out of the people running this town. I have spoken out at several meetings and have never — and I mean never ever — had one question answered. Let’s face it — if none of them know where the front of the historic old school is, how could they possibly answer questions about the REAL DEBT that they are creating? Until we have some honest, responsible people governing and managing this town we will never get any straight answers about anything! Elections are coming in May — perhaps then we can get some honest answers.

  3. Mary Finney on November 14th, 2013 7:11 am

    Once again, I am struck by the ongoing imperious behavior of Cape Charles’ elected and non-elected officials. All of these men and women supposedly work FOR the (unfortunate) citizens of the Town. However, each new article in the Wave shows that all these administrators believe that Cape Charles residents are the serfs that live to serve their masters’ whim — and how DARE they question their masters? All I can say is, I sincerely hope Mr. Southern did NOT pay this insulting bill, and May can’t come soon enough — hopefully the folks that vote are paying attention. Keep telling the truth, Cape Charles Wave.

  4. Thomas D. Giese on November 14th, 2013 7:56 am

    I have always had the same thought. I lived in Henrico County and paid county taxes. People living in Richmond paid city tax. Is this the only double taxation in the state?

  5. Kathleen Bahri on November 14th, 2013 8:23 am

    George, you’re a regular Guy Grand – “making it hot for them!”

  6. Kearn Schemm on November 14th, 2013 9:03 am

    This is another excellent article. Not long ago I asked a question of the Town and was charged $25 when they treated it as a FOIA request. They seem to want to discourage questioning — not exactly democratic to discourage citizens from questioning their elected officials.

    On double taxation: our Town Fathers and Mothers should look into the cost benefits of becoming the City of Cape Charles — it looks like we would all be saving a lot on tax dollars.

    May really can’t come soon enough.

  7. Stephen K. Fox on November 14th, 2013 9:21 am

    Vienna does not operate a sewerage plant; it is handled by the Fairfax County Department of Public Works. While both Vienna and Cape Charles are towns within the Commonwealth, it is unfair to suggest that Cape Charles’ tax structure should be compared to Vienna without looking at the systems operated by both municipalities.

    GEORGE REPLIES: The comparison to Vienna was about access to the mayor, but since you mention sewer plants, remember that they are supposed to be funded by the ratepayers, not the taxpayers.

  8. Kearn Schemm on November 14th, 2013 9:47 am

    I just looked at the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. § 2.2-3704 states in part: “A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fee charged by a public body shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication.”

    Based on this language, it seems to me that the cost of drafting emails, etc., is not justified under the act.

  9. John Hickman on November 14th, 2013 10:29 am

    The way I read it, you were asked to submit your question in writing by Town staff. Town staff then replied that they were going to treat it as a FOIA request. They made it a FOIA request, not you! For that reason alone, I wouldn’t pay it. And this doesn’t even address the validity of the bill based on the answer the staff replied with.

  10. Joe McSpedden on November 15th, 2013 12:46 am

    Can someone please explain the schedule of operating income and expense that the town clerk used in her response to George? What is the negative non-operating expense composed of?

    What does it require to become the City of Cape Charles? Would this mean the double taxation at present would be eliminated along with the elimination of the Council and Administration. What are the benefits of being a Town vs a City? Are there any? In other words, how do we eliminate the double taxation a family pays by living in Cape Charles?

  11. Bruce Wayne Jones on November 15th, 2013 8:30 am

    Wow! I would never want to live in this town, with the people you all have running it! I have lived in Richmond, Henrico County, and now Hanover County, and have never seen such a bunch as you all have in your town. Good luck to you; I think you all need to seriously think about replacing them all. I also think that because the town changed your request to a FOIA, in the message they should have told you there would be a cost, and ask you if they should proceed or not. That in itself is common courtesy, something apparently your leaders are lacking in.

  12. John Simpkins on November 15th, 2013 9:59 am

    @Joe McSpedden: I’m pretty sure there’s a minimum population requirement for legal City status in the Commonwealth, and I don’t think Cape Chaz is quite there. From what I understand, you’ll need about another 9,000 people calling the Town home plus your own court system. I’ve heard that the reason there are so many tiny incorporated towns on the Shore is because the Commonwealth was planning to raise the population requirement to incorporate, and several of the then villages decided to go for it. (I think the minimum now is 1,000). For some, it seems to make at least a little sense (Cape Charles, Onancock, Exmore). For others, well, I’m not so sure (Keller & Melfa come to mind — no offense to the Kellerites or Melfans). I’m not saying ALL the existing towns incorporated at that same point, but I think some did.

  13. John Simpkins on November 15th, 2013 10:11 am

    I would contest that bill. It’s not even a direct answer to your question, which could have been easily answered by the mayor or, presumably, almost anyone else in the Town office: “By ‘the last 3 fiscal years’, I meant 2010, 2011 & 2012, NOT 2013.” Instead, it looks like they seized the opportunity to teach you a lesson about asking questions.

  14. Thomas D. Giese on November 16th, 2013 10:32 am

    What does the county provide the taxpayers of Cape Charles? The most important is the school system — I will leave it to the more well-informed to comment on the quality. The county, I assume, has a line item budget for the school system at the 3 levels. Divide the total by the number of students, and Cape Charles will pay on a per-student basis. We already fund a generous police budget. Cape Charles residents are not noted for their high crime rate. When the paper lists the home of a defendant, it may list Cape Charles, but probably does not mean within the Town limits. It would be feasible to fund a court system for the City of Cape Charles to operate an hour per month to take care of all the crime — two or three speeding tickets. I am at a loss to think of any other service that I receive for my County tax dollars. Someone may be able to enlighten me.

  15. Thomas D. Giese on November 16th, 2013 11:50 am

    In my previous note, I forgot to mention the residents of Cape Charles who pay a “triple tax.” I am referring to the parents that pay tuition to the Christian School or Broadwater Academy.

  16. Bobby Roberts on November 17th, 2013 11:59 am

    There’s a really simple way to solve the double-tax problem for Cape Charles. Unincorporate the town. Several towns across the state have done that already. No more town means no more town taxes.