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The national credit crunch has idled some construction crews around the Twin Counties, according to a count of permits issued by local building officials' offices.
In Carroll County alone for 2008, new housing starts fell by more than a quarter from the year before.
From January to mid-December of this year, the number of building permits issued totaled 98, paperwork from the building official's office shows. That same construction category amounted to 169 for 2007.
That's a decline of 42 percent.
Falling numbers also hold true for the issuance of permits for new mobile homes, as well as additions and renovations.
The number of mobile home permits was 97 in 2007, and 77 near the end of 2008 — a drop of 20 percent.
Renovations, additions and “other” — a catchall category for work on plumbing, electrical, baths, basements and much more — went from 504 in 2007 to 390 last year, a 22.6 percent reduction.
Construction has provided a significant number of Twin County residents with jobs over the years.
Carroll County's economic profile, compiled by Virginia Employment Commission, says the number of people employed in the construction sector totals 591.
That means the construction sector is larger than that of the health care industry, which provides work for 571 Carroll residents.
Construction has traditionally provided steadier employment opportunities while mainstays like textiles and furniture manufacturing companies have announced layoffs.
Construction firms are experiencing temporary, seasonal layoffs this winter, said Bill Webb of the Virginia Employment Commission. But there's no doubt construction here has been suffering from the same difficulties as the nation as a whole.
The drops in interest rates may help with a recovery, he said. "That's a hope everybody has."
Webb estimates that 75 to 100 construction workers are experiencing winter layoffs now. "All employers we know of have employees laid off. As soon as the weather breaks, they come back."
A slowdown in construction will cause a slowdown in revenue growth for the localities, said Janie Harrison, Carroll's assessor.
New construction added about $31 million in value to the real estate tax base in 2006, for example. In 2004 and 2005, new construction values hovered around $27 million.
No figure has been compiled for 2008 yet.
Construction crews in Galax are hustling to wrap up major projects, as merchants participate in the downtown revitalization project, and individuals from all over transplant themselves into the Galax area. However, the value of construction projects has dropped from previous years, affecting the tax base of Galax.
Even though 129 construction projects occurred throughout last year — down by two from 2007's total 131 — the value of construction has dropped slightly in commercial and residential construction, including elements such as pools and decks.
In 2007, a report shows that the value of construction totaled $2.7 million, but in 2008, it was down to $2.2 million. In 2006, a report from the Galax Commissioner of Revenue's office shows that value totaled $4.6 million, and in 2005 it was at $3.6 million.
At the current tax rate of 55 cents per $100 of assessed value, this would amount to a tax revenue of $11,860 — a drop from 2007 since there was a decrease in the tax rate from 70 cents in prior years.
In 2007, at the rate of 70 cents per $100 of assessed value, the tax revenue was $18,925. In 2006, it was at $32,415; and in 2005, it was $25,378.
According to Grayson County Building Inspector James Moss, the number of permits in Grayson dropped by 87 between 2007 and 2008.
The county saw an increase in erosion and sediment control permits, from 84 to 92, as well as an increase in mobile home permits, from 28 to 36.
Every other category saw a decrease from 2007:
• single-family new structures dropped from 88 to 65
• remodels were down from 40 to 20
• additions decreased from 46 to 33
• electrical/gas upgrades went from 156 to 117.
While the total number of permits may have dropped significantly, the revenue earned was only off by around $900, comparing 2007's total of $88,492 in revenue to the county and 2008's total of $87,559.