Assessing property in Virginia started in the early 1600s when sheriffs prepared lists of property to be taxed, including personal property and people. In the mid-17th century, the courts took over this responsibility, and this system worked well, but it placed a large burden on the courts during the Revolutionary War. The General Assembly then created three Commissioners of Tax per county, elected for one year. Assessors also prepared property lists, attached a value to them and calculated the taxes due.
In 1786, the General Assembly established the office of the Commissioner of Revenue. The County Court appointed each Commissioner, who kept a tax book, determined what property to tax, worked with the Clerk to determine the levy and provided a copy to the Sheriff for tax collection. In 1851, the Commissioner of Revenue was specifically incorporated into Virginia’s Constitution, and the General Assembly made it an elective office in 1908. In 1910, a popular vote approved an amendment to the Constitution that established a four-year term for the office and allowed Commissioners to succeed themselves.
Since the 1920s, the State Compensation Board has determined the salaries of constitutional officers (Clerk of the Court, Commissioner of Revenue, Commonwealth’s Attorney, Sheriff and Treasurer). Normally, localities augment the state-approved funding levels, but because these offices provide vital government services, they should be directly accountable to the electorate — thus, the belief that voters should elect constitutional officers.