City Council Tries to End Its Existence
Greek Boyer and the other politicians running this tiny Appalachian town have dismantled the Police Department, canceled the parades and even given taxpayers $88,000 in refunds.
Now they want voters to boot them out of office.
“We don’t need to be here,” Councilman Boyer said inside a town hall that overlooks a funeral home. “We don’t need to be a town. There are more cows than people around these parts.”
In what is believed to be a first for Virginia, council members and their supporters have put a referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot that will decide whether Castlewood, population 2,800, remains a town. The Municipal League says none of the state’s 191 towns has tried to repeal its charter before.
Voter turnout in the western Virginia community could be high--nearly 100% of the adults in town have registered to vote.
“There’s a lot of interest, sure, but this thing has torn the community apart,” said state Delegate Clarence “Bud” Phillips, who has a law office in town.
The issue--which has its roots in local taxation, police enforcement and the community’s hope of attracting jobs--has caused hard feelings at work, in churches, even among families.
The sign in Anna Glovier’s yard frames the issue in simple terms: “Save Our Town. Vote No For Our Children’s Future.”
Across the highway is another sign: “Vote Yes on Nov. 4 to Annul Charter, Abolish Taxes and Politicians.”
Just six years ago, a majority of voters signed a petition calling on the General Assembly to let the community become a town.
Towns are not to be confused with cities, which are larger and must provide a school system, social services, and police and fire protection. Unlike other states, cities in Virginia are independent from surrounding counties. Towns remain under county jurisdiction.
There are about 20 businesses in Castlewood, including a few restaurants, gas stations and a shopping plaza, but most of the surrounding land is devoted to cow pastures. Coal mining is the primary industry.
But with coal mines steadily closing, residents earlier this decade decided that Castlewood should be more than a community run by Russell County. Their hope was that local government would attract local jobs to keep young people closer to home.
So they elected a council and formed a committee that drew an 8,900-acre boundary, making the new town the second biggest by land mass in Virginia. Only Blacksburg, with about 12,000 acres, is bigger.
There was soon a town hall, the beginnings of a baseball field, a Fourth of July fireworks display, a Police Department.
And there were taxes.
The council added real estate and personal property taxes to what Russell County was already asking. They taxed utilities and telephones and demanded that businesses obtain licenses. They taxed meals at restaurants and overnight stays at the town’s only hotel. They also made the local utility and cable television companies pay franchise fees.
By last year, the town had an annual revenue of more than $500,000--with nearly $400,000 of it coming from new taxes.
The revolt began after people began getting tax bills and traffic tickets.
“I voted for it [incorporation] to start with, and then they just started spending too much money,” said resident Frank Skeens.
So this spring, Boyer and five other men ran for the council on a campaign pledge to dismantle the town. Each was elected with more than 60% of the vote.
“There is nothing that being a town will benefit me or my children in any way during our lifetimes,” Boyer said. “Being a town won’t bring the coal mining back.”
Former Councilman Ernest Kennedy said some are beginning to realize that Boyer and his allies lack foresight. About 130 people attended a supper recently at which town supporters gave away hot dogs.
But opponents are giving away more than that.
In what Glovier called an unfairly timed campaign tactic, the anti-town council had their anti-town manager begin refunding $88,000 worth of taxes to more than 1,400 residents this fall.
Skeens said his refund was “tiny’ and didn’t buy his vote.
“I just don’t want to pay taxes and never get nothing back,” he said. “I don’t think there will ever be any industry here.”
Phillips, the state delegate, said Skeens may be right. He said businesses want to move into areas that are cohesive and progressive and the referendum doesn’t add to that image.
“This has formed a black mark on Castlewood,” he said. “It will forever scar the town . . . or community.”