By Cord A. Sterling
Former member of Stafford Board of County Supervisors
It is well known that some politicians will spin fabricated tales to advance their goals. We in Stafford are not immune to this behavior.
But Cindy Shelton’s recent work of fiction may serve as a shining example that college professors of the 22nd Century will use in their classrooms as they outline the decline and fall of democratic integrity.
In her recent article, she claims that since 2006, the county delayed investments in roads, new buildings, and maintenance instead of raising taxes. Perhaps someone should take her around our county so that she can see the improved Route 17, the dramatically improved Falmouth intersection, the expansions of Routes 610 and 630, the new Courthouse Road interchange at Interstate 95.
While taking this tour, she could see the five elementary schools that were rebuilt and renovated, a new Stafford High School, a new office building for the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, new athletic fields, and the Jeff Rouse Aquatic Center — all built since 2006.
When I was first elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2008, I was presented a budget that was out of balance, deteriorating infrastructure, tax rate increases that had grown significantly year over year—and threats from the bond rating agencies to downgrade Stafford to junk status.
When I left eight years later, the infrastructure projects mentioned above were either finished or ongoing, taxes on homeowners were held in check, and we had achieved a AAA bond rating.
It didn’t require taxes. It required fiscal management.
She cleverly talks about “tax rate” reductions as if to imply that these were tax cuts. However, she conveniently forgets to mention that the tax rate is one component of taxes.
The other is the assessed value of the property, and the rates were reduced to offset the increase in property values.
In a similar attempt at obfuscation, she talks about the water treatment facility and reservoirs as if they are not being maintained because of tax revenues, conveniently forgetting that these are utility projects funded through the utility fees and ignoring the fact that an entirely new reservoir, dramatically increasing the water supply, was added just a few years ago.
What are we to make out of her claim that without a tax increase, services will be cut by $25 million but neglecting to inform the public that the county will be receiving over $40 million in relief grants from the Federal Government?
Why hide such an important fact? Because it doesn’t serve her narrative that she “needs” more of our money.
She accurately captures the fact a new courthouse was delayed but fails to acknowledge that this was because we prioritized the replacement of older schools over giving criminals a more comfortable courthouse in which to be convicted.
She is also correct that the development projects, including the apartments she supported by the courthouse, will drive demand for increased services.
In fact, between her support for new residential developments and her support for new taxes, one is left to wonder if it is the interests of the county residents or the interests of the developers who support her, that drives her zeal to raise our taxes.
Since Cindy Shelton was elected, she has pursued residential development and tax increases to fund it, all at the expense of county residents. Last year she voted to increase taxes, despite the economic suffering that households and small businesses were suffering.
Now this year, she is the chief engineer of one of the largest tax hikes in Stafford history at the very time when small businesses are hoping to emerge and start to pay down the debt they incurred staying afloat. Others have already closed.
Governing is hard. Choices have to be made.
This year, I have to choose between replacing my aging air conditioner or my old carpet. Or maybe now neither, as I may have to pay the Cindy Shelton tax.
Other Stafford residents face similar choices. So do our small businesses.
Shouldn’t the Board of Supervisors face the same instead of looking to us as a bottomless well from which to draw revenues?
Today, many businesses and individuals are making the decision to leave states and localities where taxes are too high to move to Texas, Florida, and Wyoming.
It isn’t the weather that is driving them away, but the taxes. As tax increase after tax increase has been piled upon them, they are voting with their feet and moving to states and localities that value them as individuals rather than nameless sources of revenue.
As Benjamin Franklin stated, “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Little did he realize that more than 200 years later, Cindy Shelton’s latest tax increase could be the death of Stafford’s small business community by taxation.
Cord A. Sterling represented the Rock Hill District on the Stafford County Board of Supervisors and was Chair of the Finance and Budget Committee from 2008-2016.