Chincoteague Council Reduces Tax Rates, Discusses Downtown Improvements, Memorializes ‘Miss Diane’

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By Carol Vaughn —

The Chincoteague Town Council at its April 21 work session reviewed fiscal year 2023 tax rates.

“It is no secret by now that the county’s biennial reassessment has come out and that the average tax rate on Chincoteague has increased on average by 19.2%,” said Town Manager Mike Tolbert.

The increase requires council action because state law says a locality must hold its revenue from real estate taxes to less than a 1% increase over the previous year or make a formal process to increase tax rates after an increase in assessed property values.

The total real estate value for Chincoteague in 2021 was $961,819,800. The 2022 county reassessment processed 5,570 parcels in town, with a total land value of $493,677,700 and a building value of $652,610,000, for a total post-assessment value of $1,146,287,700, according to Tolbert.

The town needs to lower its tax rate from 7 cents to 5.9 cents per $100 value in order to adhere to state law. That would net the town slightly more revenue than last year, Tolbert said.

Tolbert also noted Accomack County officials said they will temporarily reduce the tax rate on vehicles only due to an unprecedented increase in used vehicle values, but he said the town has no obligation to follow suit.

Council member William McComb Jr. spoke about fairness to mobile home residents in town, noting they are taxed based on personal property and would not benefit from a real estate tax reduction or if the town followed Accomack’s lead in reducing the personal property tax rate on vehicles only.

“That’s unfair because you’re not doing anything for those folks,” McComb said, noting the effects of inflation on residents.

He recommended “whatever we do for personal property we do across the board so it impacts all facets of the community and not just certain ones.”

Council member Denise Bowden agreed.

McComb made the motion to direct staff to lower the real estate tax rate as recommended and to reduce the personal property tax rate “across the board to compensate for the increase in value” to keep revenue within 1% of last year’s.

Bowden seconded the motion, which was approved unanimously.

Tennis and Pickleball Court Rehab Approved
The council approved spending around $96,000 to resurface the tennis and basketball courts at Memorial Park and the pickleball courts and parking lot at the Amrien Gym.
Funding is to come from the beach/recreation/tourism reserve account, to be replaced with any excess fiscal year 2022 funds.

The town recreation committee recommended the projects be funded by federal American Rescue Plan Act money, but the town ARPA committee tabled that request, according to a memorandum from Tolbert.

The projects must be done in warm weather, according to Tolbert.

“It’s definitely needed,” said Bowden, adding, “…Everything here gets used. There’s not a time you don’t go by at Memorial Park that somebody’s not playing basketball or on the tennis court and the pickleball thing has picked up.”

She made the motion to pay for the project from the reserve account, to be repaid with excess fiscal year 2022 funds.

New Police Officers Approved
The council approved adding two officers to the police department.
The cost for the first year is $145,981, with the cost thereafter at $126,759. The cost is higher the first year due to the need to purchase equipment and pay for training for the new officers.

Downtown Improvements Needed
Mayor J. Arthur Leonard introduced a council discussion about downtown improvements.
“The town spent all that money and heartache on getting the roads and the sidewalks and all that stuff right, and we’ve got buildings down there that need some definite attention,” he said.

He proposed the council discuss giving downtown property owners incentives to fix up their buildings, “whether that’s in lieu of taxes or something.”

“We need to offer them some incentives in order to fix the buildings because I know it’s not cheap to do renovations down there, and hopefully if we can get septic that will spur some new business down there,” Leonard said.

He asked the council to think about the matter.

“We need to step up and make downtown worth visiting,” Leonard said.

McComb asked Tolbert if information could be sought from other towns to find out what they do to incentivize downtown businesses.

“There is an entire organization in the state of Virginia called Main Street U.S.A. that is dedicated to this — we are actually members on the first tier; we have a historic district,” Tolbert said.

He said the organization has grants for which the town could apply.

“They do come with some stipulations,” including staff time dedicated to the project, he said. His research showed other Virginia towns that have taken that step, “have done what they ask, and have made some progress revitalizing their downtown. … It’s a very well-organized effort.”

Councilman Chris Bott said the key is to create a nonprofit organization dedicated to downtown revitalization, as Onancock and Cape Charles have done, “because the funding can’t come to municipalities.”

He said those two towns’ organizations have received significant funding.

“That’s why you see them looking so nice now; they are starting to shape up. That’s the direction we need to go,” Bott said.

‘Miss Diane’ Remembered
Council members during their comment period talked about the positive effect Diane Brooke Reed Watson, known as ‘Miss Diane,’ had on generations of the island’s youth.
She was a preschool and kindergarten teacher for 48 years at her home, according to her obituary.

Watson died April 13 at age 83.

Councilman Jay Savage spoke about her demeanor and “her love for kids,” calling her a valuable asset to the community.

“The things I learned under her I still think about today,” Bowden said, calling for the council to honor her in some way.

“She touched more lives in this town than probably more so than anybody I’ve ever known,” she said.

“If she was here right now, Miss Diane, I think she would say, ‘Continue to love children. Care for them. Give them time, and’ — I know you probably ain’t supposed to say this in a meeting but — ‘tell them about Jesus,’” said Councilman Gene Wayne Taylor.

“She made our kids grow like flowers,” Bowden said, saying creating a garden in Watson’s name might be a suitable memorial.

Leonard recalled Watson’s saying, “There are no bad children. There are just some that need more love.”

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