Warren County raises taxes, fees to balance budget

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL — Owners of vehicles, dogs and businesses in Warren County will see license fees and taxes go up over the next several months.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved several amendments to the county code that set tax rates for certain businesses, and license fees for dogs and vehicles. The board voted 4-0 in favor of the amendments. Supervisor Dan Murray Jr. did not attend the meeting.

The board sought to increase rates and fees to balance the fiscal 2014 budget rather than raise property taxes. New fees and rates remain at or below the maximum allowed under state code, County Attorney Blair Mitchell said.

The county has not raised license fees for motor vehicles, motorcycles and trailers since 2001, even as the cost to police traffic matters increases, Mitchell told the board. The new fees will take effect Jan. 1. The county can expect to see approximately $133,600 in additional revenue from the increases.

The ordinance amends the code to increase vehicle licenses as follows:
• From $25 to $30 for passenger cars, station wagons, motor homes, buses, trucks
• From $10 to $15 for motorcycles, motor scooters
• From $10 to $15 for trailers, semi-trailers

No one spoke during the public hearing held on the vehicle license fees. The state allows the county to charge up to $33 for licenses on passenger cars and up to $18 on motorcycles and scooters.

Increases to the county’s business, professional and occupational license taxes approved Tuesday also go into effect Jan. 1. Mitchell told the board the county should receive an additional $136,200 by making the following increases in the rates assessed on every $100 of gross receipts:

• From 25 cents to 27 cents for personal services occupations
• From 11 cents to 13 cents for contractors
• From 39 cents to 41 cents for financial, professional or real estate services
• From 14 cents to 16 cents for retailers or retail merchants
• From 3 cents to 5 cents for wholesalers or wholesale merchants

As an example, a retailer who reports $50,000 in gross receipts would see the tax bill increase from $70 to $80. As Mitchell explained, most of the rates approved by the board remain below the maximum levies allowed under state code.

Mike McCool, a Front Royal resident and owner of a business in town, spoke at the public hearing held on the business, professional and occupational tax increase. He acknowledged that the tax increase would not affect him or his business since the town collects its own levies.

But McCool voiced concern that tax increases would hurt businesses. He said the levies amount to more overhead costs for proprietors, and will then be passed on either to the customers or taken from the profits.

“My feeling in the county and the town as a whole [is] that we’re not very business friendly and that’s kind of the note going around the community,” McCool said.

Front Royal Councilman Thomas H. Sayre questioned why the county would seek to raise taxes if it can expect to see millions of dollars in evenue from the Dominion power plant under construction outside town. Sayre mentioned he attended the recent state Republican Party convention and cited their mantra of keeping taxes low.

“So I hope that at least those of you who count yourselves as conservatives look at this very carefully before you raise these taxes,” Sayre said.

Stanley noted that the county does not know the exact amount of revenue to expect from the plant.

Asked how Warren County’s rates would compare to other jurisdictions, Stanley explained that Shenandoah County does not collect a business, professional and occupational tax. Rather, Shenandoah County collects a merchant’s capital tax on the inventory of a businesses. Stanley said Warren County’s rates compare closely with Frederick County.

The tax rates as approved do not apply to businesses in Front Royal. The town charges its own levies.

Another ordinance approved Tuesday amends the code to increase dog license fees as follows:
• From $8 to $10 for male or female dogs 4 months old and older
• From $5 to $7 for spayed or neutered dogs 4 months old and older

The county has not raised the fees for dog licenses since 1990, though the cost of animal control and housing dogs in the Humane Society shelter continue to increase. The new fees go into effect Nov. 1. The county can anticipate an additional $11,600 in revenue from the license increase that will provide extra funding for law enforcement and administrative costs related to dogs.

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