Weapon fee change fails for second time

Published 1:20 pm Wednesday, August 28, 2019

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For the second time, Wylliesburg/Red Oak Supervisor Kay Pierantoni’s effort to get a concealed weapons permit fee reduced for county citizens came up short.

During the board’s, Aug. 14 meeting, Pierantoni made a motion to reduce the fee for a concealed weapons permit from $50 to $25.

It was during the July board meeting that Pierantoni made a motion to reduce the fee to $15.

Both motions failed to pass.

During the Aug. 14 meeting, Aspen/Phenix supervisor Donna Fore second Pierantoni’s motion but it was shot down when the vote failed with a 4 to 3 vote.

Supervisors Gary Walker, Royal Freeman, Robert Shook Jr., and Crystal Shepherd cast no votes.

Board Chairman Garland Hamlett Jr., Pierantoni and Fore voted yes.

Following a citizen complaint in June, the Board of Supervisors began considering reducing the fee associated with obtaining a concealed weapons permit.

Currently, a concealed weapons fee cost $50.

Counties in the Commonwealth can charge up to $35 in additional fees for a permit, and Charlotte County has done such since the early 2000s.

According to County Administrator Daniel Witt, the $35 charged by the County goes into the general fund and helps offset the County’s local contribution to the Sheriff’s Department operating a budget.

Over a four-year period, the average annual revenue received by the County from the additional $35 is $7,132.

According to Henry Hughes, who made the complaint to the board, $10 of the fee goes to the court system and $5 goes to the state police for a background check with the remainder going to the County.

During the public comment period of the August meeting, Phillip Van Cleave, President of the Virginia Citizens Defense League addressed the board telling members that back in 1995 there was a $25 fee that went to the FBI for fingerprinting of individuals who wished to purchase a concealed weapons permit. “Fingerprints were required, but that’s been dropped for quite a while so that $25 fee that was going to be FBI it’s gone,” said Van Cleave. “That fee was meant to cover costs it was not meant to be a tax, it was not meant to be a slush fund for the County to build a park somewhere it was strictly meant to be minimum that would come out of the pocket of the individual to cover the cost of getting a permit in Virginia.”

Van Cleave noted that other counties do charge up to $50 for permits, but he sees a downward trend in some counties as low as $15.

Russ Adams from Red Oak also addressed the issue saying that he wanted to ask why those who voted no did so and that, “It’s not about the $10 a year or whatever it is, it’s the idea that you fought for this country and it’s a freedom,” Adams said noting that he was a disabled veteran.

Bridgette Sinnott from Phenix told members that it was not legal to tax a constitutional right. “Cover your fees, yes, but just because County A, B, C and D are taxing constitutional rights that don’t mean we should do that too … You did not listen to the citizens,” she said.

Before making her motion, Supervisor Pierantoni said that she could embrace the fact that the additional fees were in fact a slush fund. “It’s money that we have been collecting that I believe we shouldn’t have been collecting,” she explained. “But when you make a budget, you got to go by it or find where you’re going to come up with the money.”

Pierantoni went on the explain that the County has “come into” $9,000 this month. “That is revenue we didn’t budget for so we do have money so we can’t use the excuse that we don’t have it.”

When it came to the vote, newcomer to the Board of Supervisors Shepherd, who represents the Cullen/ Red House District, voted no. Following the vote, she explained her reasoning. “Our county needs money,” said Shepherd. “I don’t feel that $10 a year for a 5-year permit is too much. Nearly every County, if not every County adjoining ours had the same fee. I spoke with many citizens, and they all said the $50 is a fair price and they had no issues with it.”

Supervisor Walker also voted no saying, “We raised the taxes on personal property we’ve raised taxes on real estate and now we’re going to cut one of the sources of income. I don’t like it either.”

Walker continued to try and explain his position but was interrupted by Supervisor Fore.

“It’s seven thousand dollars. It doesn’t pay for hardly anything,” said Fore. “We spent $88,000 on a parking lot for the sheriff’s department, and we’re quibbling over $7,000. Are we kidding ourselves? Come on; we need to lower this fee. It’s our right to carry a firearm, and the fact that the County wants to charge me $50 is unreasonable. They should charge nothing.”

Following the meeting Walker did tell The Charlotte Gazette his reason when asked, “Basically we have maxed out our funds … raised taxes too much and do not have any room in our budget to give back money (the fee) we have been collecting for over 20 years.” he added.

“When Ms. Pierantoni announced that she had “found” $9,000 in new money the board quickly obligated it to the Drakes Branch Fire Department. Right after that, we had a request for $350,000 from the Treasurer’s office. The Board of Supervisors can’t print money. At some point, we have to make tough/ unpopular decisions to balance the budget. While the amount from the conceal carry fee may sound insignificant to some … those dollars add up and may help keep us from raising taxes again next year.”

Even though the motion failed and those wishing to carry a concealed weapons permit will still have to pay a $50 fee, George Toombs of Saxe told the board he was disappointed and disgusted. “I’m very disappointed in what’s gone on here tonight. The Second Amendment is a right, not a privilege,” he said. “The greed that has gone on here tonight is disgusting. That’s not ya’ll’s money that’s our money.”