An Augusta County version of the Boston Tea Party will occur on March 11. That is the day Augusta Citizens Against Unfair Assessments will turn out to send a message to the six supervisors who are not listening to the people.
Supervisor Tracy Pyles has been the lone voice on the Board of Supervisors to stand for property owners who are outraged at their high real estate assessments at a time of recession. He has been shunned by other members of the Board but has persevered in his quest to stand up for the little guy.
Churchville attorney Francis Chester was also outraged at his personal real estate assessment that went up 255% and decided to do something about it. His petitions requesting the Board of Supervisors to roll back assessments to 2005 values have been circulated throughout Augusta County and are available in 40 locations and online. They caused an unprecedented groundswell from the people who were looking for a voice to stand up to their local government. Many had felt ridiculed and rejected by those at the Government Center.
A movement began. A meeting was held and 600 people packed Verona Methodist Church on a cold winter night as they heard from Tracy Pyles and Francis Chester. They asked questions; they laughed; they cheered. Volunteers from the community joined in with their neighbors in the battle.
Citizens have taken handsful of petitions into their neighborhoods. Others have displayed them at their businesses. One citizen activist put a petition online which has generated 800 signatures. A Pastures District business, Jake's Convenience Store, has collected over 1,000 signatures.
Valentine's Day found Augusta Citizens Against Unfair Assessments at the Tractor Supply Store in Staunton. At the invitation of the store, we set up a table for their Community Days event and enjoyed talking with county residents while filling up three more petitions.
Mike Shull, who owns a farm in southern Augusta County, made sure petitions were placed in businesses around Raphine, Vesuvius, and Greenville.
The owners of Middlebrook General Store have turned in a number of filled-up petitions.
Countless people have stopped at Francis Chester's farm in Churchville to turn in, pick up, or sign petitions.
The Waynesboro News Virginian picked up on this early, reporting about it beginning in the fall of 2008 when Supervisor Pyles first brought it up. They have publicly voiced their support in editorials and continue to do so, giving a thumbs up to Mr. Pyles.
The eyes of Virginia are on Augusta County during this battle. Neighboring Nelson County Life magazine readers went through a similar battle last year as did Gloucester and Bath.
Local readership on this blog has jumped during this battle as SWAC area folks have checked in for the almost-daily updates on this issue.
Even as news that housing starts are at their lowest since 1959 ... even with the news that home prices dropped 18% the last quarter of 2008 continuing a trend that had begun two years earlier ... even as we heard of a national property tax revolt ... Blue Ridge Mass Appraisal tried to say everything was just fine.
March 11. Mark your calendars.
Together, Augusta ... we can make a difference!