Audit shows county survives on real estate taxes

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK — Property taxes continue to keep Shenandoah County government afloat, the most recent financial audit shows.

The 2013 audit and a report presented to the Board of Supervisors this week by James Kelly of Robinson, Farmer, Cox Associates, Certified Public Accountants LLC, show general property taxes remain the county’s main revenue. Tax revenue has increased approximately $10 million since fiscal 2004. Meanwhile, all other sources — charges for services, permits and license fees, state and federal funds — have stayed relatively flat since 2004.

Data shows that property tax revenue increased sharply between 2004 and 2007. Revenue then rose gradually until 2012, then saw another spike in 2013, when the county Board of Supervisors raised the real estate tax rate by 3 cents.

Kelly’s presentation also included data that showed the assessed value of real estate, totaling nearly $4.5 billion, has nearly doubled in the past 10 years. However, the total value has remained relatively flat since 2010. The Board of Supervisors took action to delay the reassessment process when it appeared property values may not change. The county is currently advertising for appraisal firms to perform the reassessment beginning later this year. The process is expected to take more than a year.

Approximately 59 percent of the county’s revenue comes from property taxes. Virginia provides about 18 percent of the county’s revenue, according to the 2013 data. By comparison, property taxes comprised 55 percent of the county’s revenue in 2009. Virginia provided nearly 20 percent to the county that year.

Spending on education remained the highest expense for the county. Data showed a sharp increase from about $17 million to $23 million between fiscal 2007 and 2009. Education spending fell to about $21 million the following year and has remained relatively flat since then. Spending on public safety continues to rise from about $6 million in 2004 to nearly $14 million in 2013.

Board members made no comments after Kelly presented his report Tuesday. Supervisors were given copies of the audit document several weeks ago but Kelly’s presentation had been delayed by weather in December.

But in an email Thursday, District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey voiced disappointment with the audit and the report given at the meeting. Bailey has sought more information related to the audit.

“I was not impressed with the audit in the format presented Tuesday and would like to see the complete data used to produce this report,” Bailey stated. “The county is paying them to produce this document, so I don’t see the benefit.”

Bailey added, “If any errors were made in the accounting process during the year the auditors would have asked that adjustments be made prior to the final report and presentation, correct? Where is that part of the report? The details would be more useful to me than graphs.”

Other information presented by Kelly from the audit showed:

  • The county transferred more than $1.6 million from the general fund to the landfill in fiscal 2013 to finance the facility’s operations.
  • Governmental funds ended the fiscal year with more than $16 million in unrestricted cash and investments.
  • The county has $72.5 million in long-term debt, comprised of $57.9 million in governmental funds and $14.5 million in enterprise funds. The audit showed the county’s total debt increased by $863,463 during the fiscal period. Enterprise funds are used to account for two sanitary districts, the North Fork Wastewater Treatment Plant and the landfill.
  • The county’s debt per capita of $1,704 is approximately $1,000 less than the state average, Kelly said.
  • Other revenues increased by $1.5 million as a result of a resident donated land to the Parks and Recreation Department.
  • Charges for services increased by $735,082 mainly as a result of billing for ambulance transportation.

Budget Manager Garland Miller said Thursday the county paid the firm $41,820 in January 2013 for the fiscal 2012 audit. The county has not yet been billed for the 2013 audit, Miller said.

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