by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.— In the last few months provocative Letters to the Editor have appeared on this page dealing with double personal property and real estate taxes Urbanna property owners must pay. (Along with paying these taxes to Urbanna, Urbanna property owners must also pay the same taxes to Middlesex County on the very same property.)
Some years ago several attorneys in Urbanna questioned whether such double taxation on Urbanna residents was legal. It doesn’t seem right that anyone should be taxed twice by dual governmental entities on the same property.
One Letter to the Editor boldly advised Urbanna Town Council to start looking into terminating its town incorporation in the face of this rising double taxation, growing legal liabilities for the town, exorbitant repair estimates for aging town properties, and annual budgets that seem to always spiral upward.
The letter writer may have ruffled a few feathers but he has done us a favor by bringing this issue to the surface and forcing citizens in town to, as Ann Landers said, “Wake up and smell the coffee.” The double taxation is a growing problem for Urbanna residents, especially for the retired, elderly, unemployed and those living on fixed incomes.
I am hearing that a few town residents have already sold their homes, or plan to do so soon, to escape double taxation. This trend could continue.
The grim reality for Urbanna is that its population of under 600 is quickly becoming too small a tax base to continue to fund town staff, finance annual raises, benefits, pensions and escalating annual town budgets, in addition to repairing aging buildings, parks and pool.
If Urbanna taxpayers can’t be exempted from double taxation, and if the small numbers of taxpayers in Urbanna can’t continue to pay higher taxes to both the town and county, isn’t the logical answer to terminate town incorporation, retire the town staff, mayor and town council, and become full-fledged members of Middlesex County?
Deltaville seems well able to run its community without the added expense of a town staff, thanks to an army of dedicated volunteers who work amazingly well together under the umbrella of the Deltaville Community Association (DCA). Perhaps Urbanna could set up the same system here? The only difference between the two entities is that Deltaville property owners pay only one set of real estate and personal property taxes.
Of course, there are benefits to maintaining the town of Urbanna—mainly Urbanna can zone itself and also Urbanna businesses are spared the horrendous business and professional taxes the county imposes on county businesses, which also acts to discourage new businesses in the county.
Perhaps Urbanna can’t stomach giving up its historic township as town residents rightly take a great deal of pride in their town. Could it then expand its borders and create a larger tax base to support the town? Who would like to join Urbanna and pay double taxes? Anybody? Anybody? Please don’t all of you sign up for double taxation at once.
Sadly, but understandably, there is zero interest in neighboring communities in joining Urbanna. For 30 years, while conducting my own poll, I have asked friends in adjoining communities of Kilmer’s Point, Laurel Hill, Garnet Hill, Cedar Pointe and Urbanna Harbour if they would like to join the town. Their answers have been a resounding “No.” Even though these residents enjoy the ambiance of Urbanna and may even keep an Urbanna post office address, who can blame them for not wanting to be taxed twice?
A wake-up call as to Urbanna’s legal vulnerability was the $4 million lawsuit filed against the town several years ago, which fortunately went nowhere thanks to a sympathetic judge. Still, most Urbanna residents understood so small a population could not pay such exorbitant damages, let alone hire defense attorneys. But one day, could such a lawsuit prevail?
Is there another alternative? Well, yes, but not a pleasant one. It’s called the infamous “do nothing” approach and let town council continue to raise town taxes just as Middlesex County does—heartlessly forcing those who can’t pay the taxes to sell and move. Then we become the town of “the rich,” and weekend homeowners geared for upscale tourists filled with beautiful gift stores, clothing stores, restaurants and bars.
In other words, Urbanna becomes another Annapolis, Md. But, is that what the citizens of Urbanna want? And, if we do nothing, could that be exactly where we are headed?
Perhaps “Living in Urbanna” will one day be like joining an exclusive country club . . . its double taxes considered “dues” with residents able to flaunt an Urbanna address as membership in “Club Urbanna.”
Let’s hope not. Most of us who live in the town of Urbanna chose to live here for a small-town ambiance and congenial mix of natives and come-heres living together as one family . . . instead of living in an exclusive neighborhood or an extension of West End Richmond and beyond.