Complaints are arriving at a minimum of one a day here at Village News, most are about the real estate tax rate and how it’s split. Before the add-on for environmental mandates (1.6-cents) there is a 3-cent advertized rate increase that is split two ways:
The first 2-cents of 3-cents is to cover the cost of bond service – cutting the length of the school bond that 73 percent of us voted to approve. The 2-cents is the interest on the bond that the meals tax would have paid for the Capital Improvement Program (CIP). That is to build or renovate particular schools.
The remaining 1-cent out of the 3-cent increase will pay for school equipment, such as bus maintenance and other incidental repair items that the bond referendum would not pay for.
I want to talk about the 2-cents increase to the real-estate tax, (voted down by 58 percent of you).
I know; no silly metaphors, play on words, stories about my childhood or euphemisms. Although, I will say that the first word I could spell was OUT because when I was in her way, my mother would send me outside saying out, O-U-T, out. It would be another year or so before I would learn how to spell tax, T-A-X, tax.
Just as the meals tax was rolled out, about four-to-six months before Election Day, I was asked to meet with some folks at the county to test the waters in the Bermuda District. My response was the referenda for schools would be approved, and it was. No clairvoyance, just a feel for the community.
I told them that the reason the meals tax would not pass was that it contained a three-letter-word, playing on the (euphemism alert) four-letter word. They looked at me with that “what are you talking about ‘scrunched up faces.’ I said “you’ve heard of the four-letter-word…TAX is a three-letter-word that people despise in Bermuda and Dale and this end of Matoaca districts. Maybe you should have used a four letter word like fund.”
Their faces remained scrunched. They never did seem to understand, or probably didn’t believe me or didn’t think I had any idea of what was going on this side of the Chesterfield Mountains.
Let’s look at how they could have passed the meals tax and saved all of us some money including the county and schools administrations.
In the world of advertising a marketing axiom tells us “target the person it affects now and be truthful.”
Why didn’t we see a brochure distributed through parents of school kids, during back to school night, sporting events or the PTA? The brochure would concentrate on the benefits of the meals tax and be truthful about the alternative.
Market homeowners: the better schools we have, and that doesn’t mean on the cheap, the better their property values.
Market the restaurateurs themselves: once again better schools would attract more people to the area, which would bring more customers to their restaurant.
So the meals tax fails, residents are happy, “I guess we got ‘em now; the power of the vote, now whose boss?” The meals tax went down in flames and the administration of both Chesterfield schools and the county staff didn’t quite understand what happened.
What happened was bad marketing. No marketing company was hired and it was handle by staff, economic development and IT. Do you think that’s how Toyota sells cars?
So, now we stand at the threshold of another 2-cents increase in taxes, only this time you don’t have to dine-out to pay. It could be right on your real estate tax bill. “I guess we got ‘em now; don’t they realize there’s no way around us?” But in essence the Chesterfield citizen is better off because he can deduct the 2-cents on his tax return as part of his mortgage deduction.
But the Board of Supervisor still need to market the fact of what looks like covering up a blunder. That’s what happens when you don’t lay all your cards on the table as in before the meals tax vote.
One marketing professional told me that even now, a letter to Chesterfield County homeowners stating why their taxes would increase and explaining how this increase would allow schools to service the bond (interest), allow the county to remain AAA rated and continue to better schools.
A government’s openness with its citizens will allow them to rally around elected officials. But if citizens think they have been had, forget it.
The message before the election should have been – and you can’t do this just on a website – is what the meals tax will do. If you don’t want to pay the tax there, then the alternative will be a real estate tax or you will have to wait a few years longer to have all the School Board projects completed.
Simple honesty, integrity and openness is what this county needs, once established, advertise the heck out of it.