Colonial Williamsburg is one of my favorite spots in Virginia. You can walk around the preserved city and get a sense of colonial life. However, it appears that Williamsburg is high on history and low on profits. The non-for-profit has revealed that it has lost $277 million in the last five years and laid off 71 workers. Despite outsourcing work and cutting back, Colonial Williamsburg is struggling at a time when the city of Williamsburg is threatening to levy a new 7 percent admissions tax and increase both hotel and meal taxes. The tax increases seem rather odd when the venerable institution is already struggling to keep the candles burning. This is the main draw for the area and it would seem that the city and state could do more than impose new taxes to help support this historic area.
Executive Director Mitchell Reiss has written to local governments to ask for a three-year reprieve from paying real estate and personal property taxes as well as service and business license fees. That would seem reasonable in light of the cuts and austerity program implemented by Reiss and his staff. The commercial arm of the foundation, the Colonial Williamsburg Company, has yet to post an annual profit since it was formed in 1983.
Local governments collect $2.3 million annually in real estate and property taxes, service fees and business licenses. I was a bit surprised that Colonial Williamsburg was required to pay taxes. However, Councilman Douglas Pons warned that, if Colonial Williamsburg is given a pass, it would increase the burden on others. That is a rather bizarre take in my view. This is the defining institution of Williamsburg (with William and Mary College). It is not just some commercial enterprise. The city should be proud to have such a unique feature that brings an international collection of visitors each year.
Of course, this is the same city occupied for two days in 1781 by the traitorous Benedict Arnold at the head of an army of 1500 men. It has known both treachery and taxes imposed by an uncaring government. As Thomas Paine would say, these are times that try men’s souls but Colonial Williamsburg deserves the support of both its local government and patriots everywhere.