Hearing on tax exemptions for elderly and disabled, ban on electronic skill games on agenda

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LURAY, Dec. 4 — At tonight’s December work session, the Page County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on proposed changes to the Tax Relief for the Elderly and Disabled program, as well as discuss current EMS staffing and the potential ban on “electronic skill games” in the county.

Proposed changes to the tax relief program for the elderly and disabled have two main goals — first, raise the allowed income levels of applicants so more residents can participate in the program; and secondly, create language within the ordinance that prevents a need to regularly update it. The current program (Chapter 105, Article VII of the county’s taxation code) has not been adjusted or amended since 2006. The new language bases eligibility on “medium household income” and offers certain allowances for in-home caregivers.

Those earning up to 40 percent of the median household income would be eligible for 100 percent relief on their real estate taxes; those earning 41 to 50 percent of the median household income would get a 50 percent exemption on their tax bill; those in the 51 to 60 percent range would be allowed a 25-percent exemption; while those earning 61 percent or more would not receive any exemption.

Currently, the county’s eligibility requirements are some of the strictest in the region (lowest income levels), while Page County also has some of the highest poverty rates in the region.

At the end of the board’s Nov. 20 meeting, District 5 supervisor Jeff Vaughan raised the issue of EMS staffing, which he has done several times in recent years. Vaughan holds the belief that in order to truly provide 24/7 coverage, the county’s EMS services will one day need to be fully (or almost fully) staffed by the county, rather than a continuing dependence on volunteer organizations in the county. The focus is primarily on the services provided by rescue squads, rather than fire departments.

Another issue Vaughan raised was giving county residents, particularly those in the southern end of the county, a choice of whether they would like to be taken to Rockingham Memorial Hospital in Harrisonburg or Page Memorial Hospital in Luray. Currently, patients picked up by an ambulance in the county are automatically taken to PMH, which at least two supervisors harshly criticized for the quality of their services.

The board will also discuss a potential ban on “electronic skill games”, which has become a trend in other localities across the state in recent years involving machines at various convenience stores.

Several appointments will also be considered, including reappointing Catherine Grech as a District 1 representative to the planning commission for another four-year term, and appointing Jim Printz as the District 5 representative to the Social Services Board.

In other business at its Nov. 20 meeting, the Page County Board of Supervisors took the following actions:

• Unanimously adopted amendments to the county’s campground ordinance recommended by the county planning commission. The commission formed a subcommittee to develop numerous changes to the ordinance due to complaints about existing campgrounds and concerns over future projects. Many of the changes dealt with the size and scope of future projects, as well as requirements aimed at mitigating issues with surrounding neighbors at campground sites. Three speakers who addressed the supervisors during a public hearing applauded the work of the commission and endorsed its recommended amendments.

• Unanimously approved budget amendments including the acceptance of $1,302 in property seized by the Page County Sheriff’s Office to be used for supplies for the Investigators Division; appropriating $29,007 in state funds (through PSAP NG9-1-1 grant) for ECC’s higher than anticipated telecommunication expenses related to the new radio system; and $84, 540 in General Fund Balance and $2,594 of unappropriated transient occupancy tax (TOT) revenue to cover a 2-percent cost of living salary increase for all county employees not covered by the State Compensation Board. The increase took effect in December and covers the remaining seven months in the fiscal year.

• Unanimously approved a letter of support from the county to accompany an application submitted to the state by Ryan Hobson and Jay Dedman, owners of Broad Porch Coffee, to demolish and rebuild a small building at 12 West Main Street in Luray (between Inspiring Dreams dance studio and Appalachian Trail Outfitters). The new structure is being proposed mixed-use funding for long-term housing upstairs and commercial use on the ground level in Downtown Luray. If approved by the state, the $250,000 in Industrial Revitalization Funds would be channeled through the county’s Economic Development Authority’s rotating loan fund and combined with $250,000 provided by the applicant.

• Unanimously approved to recommend Danny Comer for reappointment to the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals representing District 4. The five-year term would expire on Nov. 8, 2028. The recommendation must be sent to the circuit court judge for final approval.

• Unanimously approved the appointment of Elisabeth Alger as the District 4 representative to the Social Services Board. Alger replaces Del Price, who did not seek re-appointment. Alger’s four-year term runs from Jan. 1, 2024 through Dec. 31, 2027.

In other business at its Nov. 6 work session, the Page County Board of Supervisors took the following actions:

• Heard a preliminary report from Director of Economic Development and Tourism Nina Fox outlining initial plans for the construction and operation of the Page Valley Cultural Center and Business Hub on county-owned land along Route 211. Supervisors instructed Fox to return in January with a more defined business plan for the project. Fox plans to form a steering committee to help develop that plan. In her report, Fox indicated that the facility would be built with federal and state loans and grants, and operated and maintained through the use of Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) funds currently earmarked for the operation of the Luray-Page County Visitors Center. Supervisors also asked Fox to collaborate with the Town of Luray on the concept and find a way for the project to pay for itself (through increased TOT revenue) in five to seven years.

• Heard a presentation from Billy Hall, manager of the Battle Creek Landfill, regarding the implementation of an additional fee for unsecured loads coming to the landfill. The fee would not apply at recycling centers and be $5 for private loads and possibly up to $50 for commercial loads. Supervisors did not take any action on the proposal citing numerous concerns over implementing an additional fee versus the effort to control litter along Battle Creek Road near the landfill. State law currently requires loads to be covered in transport on state roads.

• Heard that Tyler Olsen, county finance director, and the county finance department received its seventh Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.

• Heard that the Page County Animal Shelter received its fourth recognition as a “No Kill” facility after saving 96 percent of the animals that entered the facility in the past year.

In other business at its Oct. 30 special meeting, the Page County Board of Supervisors took the following actions:

Denied an application submitted by Jeffrey Dinges for a special use permit to operate a special event/banquet venue in a refurbished barn on his property on Honeyville Road. Outgoing District 3 supervisor Mark Stroupe made the motion to support the application after stating that he felt the project would provide jobs, additional tax revenue and fit the county’s economic plan. However, Stroupe was the lone vote in support of the project as the motion failed, 1-3, following numerous complaints for months from neighbors, many of whom were related to the applicants. District 2 supervisor Allen Louderback and outgoing District 4 supervisor Larry Foltz abstained from the vote due to personal connections to the applicants or nearby properties.

Denied a proposal to levy a 5-cent tax on each plastic bag used or distributed at retail outlets across the county. If implemented, four cents would have gone to the county, with one cent going to the retailer. Revenue would have been used for litter control, and the county had already included $350,000 in the current budget in anticipation of the new tax prior to its approval. However, County Administrator Amity Moler stated that “with all the real estate [new construction tax revenue] coming in, we should be fine” to cover the loss in the ’23-’24 budget. District 5 supervisor Jeff Vaughan was the lone vote of support, as the proposal failed 1-5.

• Unanimously agreed to set a public hearing for Monday, Dec. 4 to receive public input on adjustments to the requirements for the Tax Relief for the Elderly and Disabled program. The program’s income level requirements have not been increased since 2006, according to Commissioner of the Revenue Becky Smith, and they currently stand as some of the lowest levels allowed in the Shenandoah Valley in a county with some of the highest poverty in the region.

For more information about Page County government,

visit https://www.pagecounty.virginia.gov/

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