By Alex Bridges
WOODSTOCK - Shenandoah County leaders on Tuesday backed higher tax rates and more government spending for next fiscal year.
The Board of Supervisors stopped short of approving as steep of a tax increase on real estate as originally proposed. The board's action marks the second increase in the tax rate in two years.
Supervisors voted 5-1 at its regular meeting to adopt a resolution that sets the tax rates on real estate, personal property and other items for the 2013 calendar year. Supervisor John "Dick" Neese voted against the motion to adopt the resolution.
Under the ordinance, the real estate tax rate increases by 3 cents from 51 cents to 54 cents per $100 of the assessed value. The bill on real estate valued at $200,000 increases from $1,020 to $1,080.
The board made no change in the proposed 35-cent increase in the personal property tax rate that raises the levy from $3.15 to $3.50 per $100 of the assessed value.
At the Tuesday meeting Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli made a motion to adopt a resolution that would set the real estate tax rate at 54 cents per $100 of assessed value. Supervisor David Ferguson said he could support the tax rates because county staff and the board had found a way to cut approximately $1.37 million from the budget as proposed, thus lessening the need to raise the levies.
Supervisor Steven A. Baker said he didn't want to impose higher taxes but noted that various county departments have funding needs.
"But I've got to look at this thing objectively," Baker said.
Supervisors also voted 5-1 to approve an ordinance to adopt the fiscal 2014 budget that calls for a general operating fund of $55.17 million. The board then voted 5-1 to approve the ordinance needed to appropriate the funds in the budget. Neese cast the dissenting vote at each action.
The budget ordinance as approved calls for the county to transfer $23.58 million in local money to public schools. The total operations budget for the schools is $56.86 million.
Earlier in the meeting, supervisors held a public hearing on the ordinance that the board needed to adopt in order to appropriate the money in the fiscal 2014 budget. Marsha Shruntz spoke to supervisors and asked the board to curb spending.
"I want you to hold the line," Shruntz told the board.
During the public comment period, Woodstock resident Cindy Bailey spoke to the board and recalled an earlier meeting at which supervisors learned of the school system's increased needs. Bailey reminded the board the system, according to Superintendent B. Keith Rowland, has not had funding for capital needs in five years. Bailey noted that the school system still has $9 million in maintenance needs.
Ferguson commented later that supervisors borrowed $7 million three years ago to pay for improvements to the school facilities. The county continues to pay $480,000 a year on the debt, Ferguson said. But funding schools costs money and, as Ferguson explained, the county can't keep tax rates the same and spend more money.
"You can't do both," Ferguson said.
The supervisor added that the county has allocated another $450,000 in the next fiscal year for schools. The county also gave schools more than $200,000 to pay for security-related improvements to buildings.
"I don't apologize for the amount of money we've given to the school system," Ferguson added.
Vice Chairman Dennis Morris explained the $7 million went to pay for energy-saving improvements to the school facilities.
Prior to the board meeting, supervisors held a work session to continue hashing out the fiscal 2014 budget and proposed increases in the tax rates. Supervisors also debated whether to fund more than $180,000 to the Department of Fire and Rescue solely to cover overtime pay in the next fiscal year. Supervisors Ferguson and Baroncelli questioned why the county should spend that much money on overtime but not fund the department chief's request for additional firefighters.
The board had advertised a general fund budget for fiscal 2014 of $56.54 million. Supervisors agreed at their work session April 18 on changes to the budget that would reduce operational expenses by $649,325 and capital spending by $724,828. The reduction of $1.37 million leaves the county with a general operating budget of $55.17 million.
At the work session Tuesday before the regular meeting, Budget Manager Garland Miller Jr. relayed information to the board on the impact on revenue projects by limiting the real estate tax rate increase.
Miller explained that an increase in the real estate tax rate of 4 cents rather than 6 cents would bring the county $900,000 less in revenue than budgeted. Reducing the increase to 3 cents would cut the revenue by $1.35 million. Each penny increase on the tax rate brings approximately $450,000 to the county in extra revenue.
Also at the work session, supervisors received a memorandum dated Tuesday from county Sheriff Timothy C. Carter pertaining to his offer to use money awarded to the agency through the federal asset sharing program. In the memo Carter gives the board a revised appropriation request after receiving information from Miller.
The sheriff requested an appropriation of $608,927 in asset sharing funds. The request includes $162,506 to fund four additional school resource officers. The revised amount reflects spending for five new patrol vehicles with related equipment, in-car computers for three school-resource officers, body cameras and other items.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org