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Posted March 31, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Warren avoids tax hikes to balance budget

By Alex Bridges

Warren County leaders plan to avoid raising major taxes to balance next year's budget.

The Board of Supervisors last week decided to keep most of the county's tax rates, including levies on real estate and personal property, at the current levels. Instead, the county plans to make up a projected shortfall by increasing other fees and taxes.

County Administrator Douglas Stanley explained Friday that supervisors indicated a desire early in the process to leave real estate and personal property taxes alone as they hashed out the fiscal 2014 budget. Supervisors directed staff to look for other ways to balance the budget.

"Not just real estate but look at everything" Stanley recalled. "Some of these things we haven't looked at in 20 years or so."

Going into a special meeting Tuesday, county officials and the board faced having to bridge a $1.45 million shortfall between expected revenue and spending. Officials made more changes to the budget amounting to a reduction of $1,106,446. However, as Stanley explained, this still left a shortfall of approximately $341,000.

Increases to several taxes other than real estate generates approximately $332,000. Stanley said staff took the difference between the $332,000 and $341,000 from the county's contingency fund to balance the budget for fiscal 2014.

"We've basically balanced the budget without an increase in real estate or personal property taxes," Stanley said.

Given that the county generates $380,000 from each 1-cent increase in the real estate tax rate, the board would need to raise the levy by 3-4 cents, to 52-53 cents per $100 of assessed value, to make up the $1.1 million.

Under the proposed budget, Stanley has recommended the county increase the vehicle license tax from $25 to $30. By comparison, the surrounding counties charge $25.

Dog licenses would increase from $5 to $7 for unsexed and from $8 to $10 for male or female canines. Licenses are free for dogs serving the disabled.

The budget also calls for an increase in the building and related fees charged for commercial construction. Fees would increase from 16 cents per square foot to 20 cents per square foot of the building.

Even without the additional revenue the county could collect through increasing the tax rate, Stanley proposes a 2.5-percent step increase in salaries for all county government employees beginning January 2014. School employees would receive a 2 percent salary increase effective July 1 under a governor's initiative.

The county can expect extra tax revenue generated by real estate, utilities, sales and approximately $1 million from the Dominion power plant currently under construction, according to Stanley. Earlier in the budget process, staff included a 10 percent increase in the cost to provide health insurance to employees. However, the county has confirmed a 6.5 percent increase that also freed up more than $156,000 for other purposes.

Supervisors will hold the hearing at 7 p.m. April 9. The hearing also will include proposed school operating and cafeteria budgets, and proposed spending plans for the county's sanitary districts. The county will advertise a real estate tax rate of 59 cents per $100 of assessed value. Under the proposed budget, the personal property tax rate would remain at $4 per $100 of assessed value for the current calendar year; 50 cents on aircraft; and $1.30 for machinery and tools.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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