By Alex Bridges
Shenandoah County homeowners could see tax bills increase 11.7 percent under the proposed budget for fiscal 2014.
County Administrator Douglas Walker presented his recommended spending plan for the next budget cycle at a county Board of Supervisors work session on Thursday.
Walker has proposed the county increase the real estate tax rate by 6 cents, from 51 cents to 57 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Such an increase would generate $2.7 million in additional revenue that, under the proposal, would go to fund increased spending for public safety and other areas. Walker has not proposed salary raises beyond a 2 percent increase in the cost-of-living allowance.
As Walker told the board, certain austerity measures taken by the board and the county have "run their course."
Supervisors did not comment on the proposed budget after Walker made his presentation. The board will hold more work sessions in the weeks ahead. The county must advertise tax rates by April 2 but supervisors can approve a levy equal or below that level.
The county is gradually moving away from using its reserves to cover operational costs, Walker said. Instead, as Walker has proposed, the county may raise taxes to fund government operations. Supervisor David Ferguson acknowledged the change.
"This is a paradigm shift," Ferguson said.
Walker's proposal includes funding for four additional school resource officers. An additional $55,000 would cover part-time support. Walker noted the budget does not include three new full-time patrol deputies or three full-time court deputies for the sheriff's office.
The Department of Fire and Rescue would not receive funding to hire 12 full-time firefighter/emergency medical services employees.
Other departments requested, but would not receive, funding for more employees under the budget.
Walker has proposed the county transfer nearly $23.5 million to the school system for operations. Total funding to schools comes to almost $27.3 million. Walker noted that even with a 6-cent raise in the real estate tax, an additional $3 million is needed to fund the schools transfer. Walker noted that the county would need to look at other sources of money.
The administrator also has recommended the board raise the personal property tax by 35 cents from $3.15 to $3.50 per $100 of assessed value. The increase would generate just under $1.1 million in new revenue.
The county needs the additional money to cover nearly $3.1 million for public schools, public safety and capital projects. Those items comprise 87.5 percent of the net new spending, Walker said.
The county's health insurance cost will increase by 1.7 percent. The budget as proposed covers part of the increase and also a 2 percent raise in the cost of living allowance.
The proposed budget includes spending on capital projects such as buying new vehicles for school resource officers, replacement cars and computers. Walker has proposed the county hire a consultant to perform a space study on the needs of the Sheriff's Office and Circuit Court, taking into consideration the current jail may become vacant when the regional facility opens.
The budget anticipates the upgrade to the E911 Emergency Communication System at an estimated cost of $407,000. Walker told the board the county can expect to receive a grant of $250,000 to help pay the cost.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org