CHATHAM — The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors meeting was held before a sizeable crowd Monday evening, most of whom came to express support for the removal of the solid waste fee.
The supervisors voted 5-2 to get rid of the $60 annual solid waste fee. Chairwoman Brenda Bowman and Supervisor Jesse Barksdale voted against the motion to abolish the fee beginning Dec. 31. Supervisor Coy Harville introduced reconsidering the fee in September.
The fee was instated back in 2012 with a 4-3 vote. With the help of Del. Danny Marshall, the Virginia General Assembly granted permission to Pittsylvania County, among others, to impose the fee.
Nearly the entire audience at Monday’s meeting expressed support of the fee removal. The majority of the complaints emphasized the burden on rental property owners. Speakers with properties said that they struggled to pass the fee onto the actual residents.
“I’ve got one house and I’m having to pay for 34 because I run a trailer park,” Dickie Deal of the Callands-Gretna district said. “I don’t know why I’m paying for everyone’s taxes.”
Rental property owner Curtis Arthur explained that many of his renters live on a fixed income, sometimes drawing their living from Social Security or disability.
“Some ain’t hardly got money to put bread on their table,” Arthur said.
Speakers also expressed dissatisfaction with the taxation imposed on the people. Some argued that the waste fee has been ineffectively used. Others said that eliminating the fee wouldn’t leave the county without the needed funds because of its approximately $30 million surplus.
Barksdale stated that there was a great deal of misinformation within the public’s comments. He particularly said that the details about the surplus fund were incorrect from some constituents.
“I’m not for the repeal for the waste fee because we need that revenue fund,” he said, adding that tax increases should be expected.
Barksdale pointed out that there remained a need for further discussion perhaps by a committee. That move was never taken. Harville countered that need.
“The finance committee can meet anytime. Nobody’s been concerned about where this is coming from,” Harville said.
Harville stated that after the school bond payments are made there will still be around $30 million available.
“My only concern is it is happening pretty abruptly,” Bowman said of the vote, adding she also wished a committee meeting could have discussed the impacts.
“Yes, we’re doing good and yes, we have some reserve. I’d like to see us move forward do some things that we can be proud of in this county,” she said, noting the need for the new animal shelter and jail.
One resident in the Westover district said that the public was told they would not receive tax increases following the fee implementation. Despite that, the county had two tax increases since the fee was introduced.
“Real estate’s gone up twice since this came into existence so it’s obvious it’s not doing its job,” Supervisor Tim Barber said. “I don’t think it will have a significant burden on the county. Things are getting paid off. It will work itself out. Everywhere I go people hate this fee.”
Others suggested that one solution would be to have the county tighten up its funds. One resident pointed out that many salaries of county officials exceed $50,000, which is not in line with the earnings of community residents.
“This fee brings undue hardship on the very citizens who cannot afford it,” Callands-Gretna resident Debra Lovelace said.
She wasn’t alone in seeing the county residents as victims of over-taxation. Richard Shumate of the Westover district agreed with Lovelace’s remarks, which started a trend of applause following comments in opposition to the fee.
Shumate related experiences standing in line at the pharmacy, watching his neighbors not be able to afford prescription medication. He has heard them beg for partial fillings or even a single pill.
“I think we can get by with eliminating this fee,” Supervisor Elton Blackstock said. “I think we can meet our obligations.”
Blackstock stated he plans to soon call a finance committee meeting to discuss this issue. He added he struggles with the challenges of the fee.
Only one resident took advantage of the public comment session to voice support. Elizabeth Jones pointed out that nearly all payments are considered distasteful but that the ultimate usage of the funds is beneficial to the community as a whole.
“The purpose of such charges usually means better or continued delivery of services without cuts or adjustments,” Jones said.
Jones stated that pollution and littering are major concerns for her. She called out the county’s waste sites as being in poor shape.
Bowman took time to defend herself before voting against the repeal of the fee. She mentioned disparaging comments made by Harville in a letter to the editor in which Harville suggested she didn’t care about her constituents. She argued that she is very attentive and vigilant regarding the concerns of her district and does research.
She shared that in 2012 she heard from 18 of her 9,200 constituents when the issue first arose. This time around, she heard from just seven. The majority of the most recent pool of voices supported the fee.