Greene County business leaders and entrepreneurs deserve our admiration. They have risked much to establish a viable presence in our community and reap the benefits they have created.  They are heroes among us.

With this in mind, it is interesting to hear what “good government” means to different people, even at the local level.  To some, it means being involved in any aspect of our lives with the intention of making them better or even fairer.  Welcome, the perspective of the Progressive. 

To the Conservative, it means government is confined to its basic role intended for a specific level in society.  When government is limited, the citizen is elevated and has the freedom to make their choice and produce an uncertain outcome. It is where the citizen is most free. This is the view our Founders intended, and the view that many master-minds of government have shredded and use for political influence.

There are few examples where local government is confined to its basics of health, safety, and welfare of a community.  If you look at it a bit deeper, you will find limits being stretched so ever closer to justifying anything it can stuff into a reason for its existence, all in the name our general welfare.  Local government can find a program for anything just as quickly as Washington, D.C. does.

The Virginia Republican Creed describes the basics of what we believe and forms the foundation by which good government should be based.  It is broad enough to apply to all levels of government. Its first sentence reads, “…the free enterprise system is the most productive supplier of human needs and economic justice”, and continues from there.

This first principle of economic freedom contrasts with the view that many in Greene county government believe about the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT).  Recently, a member of the Greene County Board of Supervisors stated publicly that the TOT is “good for our community” and allows for “public private partnerships”

This promotion of the TOT implies that preferred private ventures may not achieve success without the involvement of the public (government).  Does Mr. Supervisor advocate this specific tax because it’s not paid by the county resident?  If so, why would my raising the issue concern anyone?  Who cares, right? 

This issue more reminds me of the current US Federal tax code, which is more about engineering social and political outcomes than it is with raising revenue to fund the proper role of the Federal Government. There are similar parallels with the TOT in Greene County.

By local ordinance Greene county has chosen to impose a maximum of five percent tax on gross receipts generated by hotels, motels, boarding houses, travel campgrounds, and other facilities offering guest rooms rented out for continuous occupancy for fewer than 30 consecutive days. 

According to the TOT state statute, “any excess over two percent (of the TOT) shall be designated and spent solely for tourism and travel, marketing of tourism or initiatives that, as determined after consultation with the local tourism industry organizations, including representatives of lodging properties located in the county, attract travelers to the locality, increase occupancy at lodging properties, and generate tourism revenues in the locality”.

In a nutshell, forty percent of the TOT collected becomes a revenue source for the basic functions of local government. The remaining sixty percent of the TOT is earmarked for advancing or promoting Greene County’s preferred local private tourism industry.

Aside from funding the legitimate function of the Greene Co. Economic Development Authority, which does promote tourism, individual businesses are selected by influential decision makers to receive direct cash “investment” offered by the TOT.  As a matter of fact, this actually occurred in 2016 by a $150,000 matching local “grant” in cooperation with the Virginia Tourism Growth Fund.  

No other private industry in Greene County has a special government funding mechanism by which rewards are bestowed in coordination between county personnel, elected representatives, and appointed boards.

Since the TOT is paid by visitors to Greene, and sixty percent of it is set aside for private business investment, it’s no wonder why Mr. Supervisor believes the TOT is good for Greene County.  It’s one tool that can be used to demonstrate that government cares and is looking out for business.  Truth be told, it’s actually good for him.

Politically, this is a win-win for supporting representatives on the Board of Supervisors and a few interested members of a preferred industry.  Therein lies the potentially dysfunctional part of the TOT. 

But, of course, this kind of government intervention that side-steps its core function is all accepted in the name of making things better and fairer for all of us.   At least that’s what I’ve been told, and at most what’s been demonstrated.

Sometimes it’s good to just stop and ask yourself, “why”. How does all of this resemble a free market and not just government influence?

Bob Young
Ruckersville, VA