By Sally Voth -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK - Shenandoah County homeowners will pay an additional 4 cents per $100 assessed value on their real-estate tax starting in June.
The Board of Supervisors adopted the rate increase, bringing the tax rate up to 51 cents at its meeting Tuesday night. However, they opted not to adopt the fiscal 2013 budget, and will work on it at an additional work session May 3.
"This has been a very difficult process for us," Supervisors Chairman Conrad Helsley said prior to the vote.
The supervisors have repeatedly stressed that changes to the Virginia Retirement System, which require current government workers to pay 5 percent of their salaries toward their retirement benefits, with the localities reimbursing them 5 percent, are the reason why a tax increase is needed. Starting in 2014, new government hires will have to pay the 5 percent themselves.
Helsley said those changes are costing the county an additional $3.1 million. The additional 4 cents on $100 of assessed value for real estate will generate about $1.7 million, he said.
In the initial $54 million budget -- 11 percent higher than this year's -- County Administrator Doug Walker proposed to the board, there was an 8-cent real-estate tax increase.
At that time, additional VRS costs were expected to cost the county $364,507. Plus, the county was looking at hiring 13 additional fire and rescue workers at a cost of $691,215.
The county's debt service in fiscal 2013 will be $5.5 million, about $125,000 more than the current year expenses.
The county has since dropped the number of new firefighters to eight, and has looked at other ways to cut spending.
Currently, supervisors are looking at a budget gap of around $640,000, which could possibly be closed through taking funds out of the budget reserves, the capital improvement plan budget or the proposed schools' budget, among other items.
They're discussing financing the schools $1.8 million more than in the current fiscal year, down from the School Board's request of $2.4 million. Since the request was made, the schools have gotten an additional nearly $300,000 in state revenue.
District 3 Supervisor David Ferguson said during a budget work session Tuesday he wished the supervisors could fully fund the schools' request.
"Don't think we're cutting budgets because it's frivolous overspending," he said. "It's not. We're sacrificing just like everybody else to get down to a reasonable amount of revenue that we need to generate."
Helsley cautioned during the work session about tapping the fund balance too much.
"We've got to watch going to that well," he said.
Cuts have had to be made to make up the difference caused by VRS costs, Helsley said during the board meeting.
"That has been a very, very difficult thing, plus we have our other expenditures that we've had to look at," he said. "The School [Board] has eliminated their CIP, their projects, and the county basically has done just about the same thing."
District 2 Supervisor Steve Baker, the only one to vote against the tax increase, said he'd gotten calls from older residents on fixed incomes.
"I would've liked to have seen it no more than 3 cents," he said.
The Board of Supervisors sometimes gets accused of not listening to residents. District 5 Supervisor Dennis Morris disagrees.
"I think our board is very in touch with our constituency," he said.
At last week's public hearing on the budget, two themes stood out, Morris said. These were the need to take care of the school system and "people are looking at us to be conservative and frugal with our spending."
The initial budget proposed by Walker called for an 8-cent tax hike, and cutting it to 4 cents was a sign of frugality, according to Morris.
"I think we're feeling the pain of our constituency out there who are having problems making ends meet," he said. "At the same time, we had those who support various other things, like public safety."