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Keep taxes low and regulation light

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By John Barnhart


    Bedford County’s Department of Economic Development held the first of what Traci Blido, the director of economic development, hopes will be a quarterly event. The first event, held at CVCC’s Bedford facility on Feb. 16, was a little heavy on representatives from local government and non-profits and a little light on business representatives. Having those folks there is good, but it is a business roundtable, so it would be good to have more business representatives there. Blido hopes that will happen now that the roundtables will be a regular feature.
    One fellow, who identified himself as being from a business that produces software for the telecommunications industry, said that the county underfunds its school system. He said that a good school system is important for attracting new businesses because the quality of the school system is something that will make the area attractive to the businesses’ employees. I assume that he’s talking about businesses that will bring existing employees from another area or will be recruiting people from outside the area.
    I would like to hear the people, who talk about the school system being underfunded, be a little more specific. Give us a figure on how much more local money the board of supervisors should be giving the schools. Then, tell us where this money is supposed to come from.
    The money is going to come from taxes, of course. Unless the supervisors are able to make deep cuts elsewhere, and I don’t think that is possible given the General Assembly’s penchant for unfunded mandates, more money for the schools will have to come from higher tax rates.
    This board of supervisors is in no mood to raise taxes, and that’s a good thing. Tax hikes need to be approached cautiously, keeping the consequences of higher tax rates in mind. Taxpayers don’t have bottomless pockets.
    Fortunately, raising tax rates isn’t the only source of new revenue. Revenue growth through business growth is an important feature and this, along with prudent spending, can keep tax rates low. Bedford County needs to provide a business friendly environment that doesn’t put stumbling blocks in the way of businesses getting started and prospering. A light regulatory hand is important for this to happen.
    Jerry Craig, who now sits in the District 7 seat on the planning commission, recently told me that the county’s sign regulations put a small business out of business in Montvale. Craig said that it was a restaurant and occupied a now vacant space in the building connected with the Exxon station there. He said the restaurant had great breakfasts, but county sign regulations kept the owners from putting a noticeable sign out in order to draw attention to themselves and bring in some customers from the passing traffic on US 460. I drive through Montvale every day on my way to and from work and I understand what he means. I was barely aware that there was some sort of place there offering food of some sort, but there was virtually no signage that I could easily see while driving,  and that made the business nearly invisible. I didn’t even realize it was gone until Craig told me about its demise.   It would be a shame if Bedford County’s restrictions on signs killed a business. Hopefully the supervisors’ proposed changes to the zoning ordinance will address this problem.
    But Bedford County does seem to be open for business. The Bedford area (I’m using this phrase to include the city of Bedford which will soon revert to town status) led Region 2000, which consists of four counties and Lynchburg (I’ve excluded Bedford for the same reason), in new business start-ups. This means Bedford County is doing something right, and I think low taxes play a big part in this. Notice that the Lake Vista office park in Forest is full and all of these businesses could have easily located in Lynchburg, a very short distance away, if they had chosen to do so. They chose Bedford County instead, and I bet Bedford County’s tax rates, which are lower than Lynchburg’s, had something to do with that decision.