Correction: A story published Wednesday should have stated Shenandoah County resident Van Holmes said he favored funding the proposed school board budget for fiscal 2014 at the current level.
By Alex Bridges
WOODSTOCK - Proposed tax hikes drew fire and support from Shenandoah County residents Tuesday.
The Board of Supervisors held public hearings on the tax rates and the proposed budget for fiscal 2014 at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School. The hearing attracted a smaller audience than last year when the board also considered and eventually approved the first real estate tax rate increase in several years.
The county has proposed an increase in the real estate tax rate of 6 cents to raise the levy from 51 cents to 57 cents per $100 of assessed value. Each penny of the proposed increase would bring $450,000 in additional revenue. The budget also assumes a 35-cent increase in the personal property tax from $3.15 to $3.50 per $100 assessed value. The county can expect $31,000 in additional revenue from each penny of the increase.
Acting County Administrator Mary Beth Price gave a brief overview of the proposed fiscal 2014 budget that calls for $56.5 million in spending. The budget includes a 2 percent increase in the cost of living allowance for county employees. Officials say the tax increases also are needed to fund hiring for the Sheriff's Office and other expenses.
Most people who voiced support for increasing taxes did so in light of the School Board's proposed budget rather than the spending plan for the county government.
Woodstock resident and disabled veteran Susan Gorman told supervisors she and others continue to scrape by to afford the county taxes while raising families or running businesses.
"We have to live within our budget," Gorman added. "Why can't this county, this Board of Supervisors, do the same?"
Most of the speakers, including New Market resident Mark Capozella and Bob Clark, of Woodstock, told supervisors the county government needed to focus on needs rather than wants. Several people criticized the board for authorizing the spending of millions of dollars for large projects such as the Edinburg School and the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail in Warren County.
"It's ridiculous; it's shameful," Gorman said of the situation.
Supporters of the schools told supervisors the county needs to spend the money to improve the education system.
Strasburg resident Van Holmes said he supported fully funding the School Board's proposed budget. He noted that supervisors face the burden of approving tax rates needed to fund the school's budget. Holmes also pointed out that of the proposed tax rate increases, more of the revenue is projected to go to the school system than general government.
Seth Coffman urged supervisors to fund the School Board's budget.
"If it involves raising taxes, then I'm willing to make that sacrifice to pay for that," Coffman said.
Other speakers, such as Woodstock resident and county teacher Jan Orndorff, were more emphatic in their plea for schools spending.
"Please don't beat up the kids when you do the budget," Orndorff said.
Most speakers urged the board to cut spending and not raise taxes.
Matthew Frye warned the board the proposed tax increases will hurt the county.
"Increasing the tax will not only hurt this great county but it will send foreclosure and repossession rates through the roof," Frye said. "Stop spending and start cutting."
Chris Goodwin told the board it needed to address needs rather than wants. He said the government may need to make the same sacrifices the private sector has in recent years.
"You can't keep adding positions and you can't keep putting it on the backs of the people," Goodwin said.
Also at the meeting, the board held public hearings on proposed rates and fees for customers of the Stoney Creek and Toms Brook-Maurertown Sanitary Districts.
Mt. Jackson resident Tom Wright said he was concerned with the proposed increases. Hal Ferguson, of Basye, who serves as president of the Sky Bryce property owners group, said he was concerned with continuing increases in connection fees and other charges and how they might deter people from moving to that area of the county. Kevin Brennan, also of Basye and the homeowner's association, advised the board that increasing the connection fees would hurt the market for properties in Bryce and the area supplied by the Stoney Creek Sanitary District.
No one spoke at the public hearing held on proposed adoption fees charged by the county animal shelter.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org