Warren County narrows budget gap with tax hike, spending cuts

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL — Warren County leaders may consider raising taxes to fill a gap projected in next year’s budget.

County Administrator Doug Stanley recommended the board raise the real estate tax rate by 2 cents, from 59 cents to 61 cents per $100 of assessed value, during a work session on the proposed budget on Tuesday,

Stanley suggested that the revenue collected through 1 cent of the increase go toward the county’s share of the cost for the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail set to open July 1. Money from the other penny would address law enforcement positions in the Sheriff’s Office budget that the county would need to transfer from the corrections budget used for the local jail.

Supervisors may likely pick a tax rate at their March 25 meeting that they can advertise for a public hearing.

Stanley offered the board a long list of spending cuts and other actions supervisors could take to help balance the books next year. The figures now show the county needs to fill a gap of approximately $2.77 million in the fiscal 2015 budget if tax rates remain unchanged.

“I don’t think there’s much left on the table,” Stanley said.

The county can expect to collect approximately $372,034 in additional revenue from each penny increase in the real estate tax rate, according to data provided by staff. The county could also raise the tax rate on mobile homes from 59 cents to 60 cents per $100 of assessed value. That increase would generate only $170 in new revenue.

The county raised the tax rate from 45 cents to 46 cents per $100 of assessed value for 2009 and 2010, then from 46 cents to 59 cents in 2011.

Board members commented that Front Royal Town Council gave preliminary approval to a proposed 2 cent increase in the local real estate tax rate. Town property owners currently pay 11 cents per $100 of assessed value to Front Royal. They also pay real estate taxes to the county at the regular rate.

Shenandoah District Supervisor Richard Traczyk noted his concern about raising taxes on property owners.

“I just worry about the push-back,” Traczyk said. “I understand from the newspaper … that the town has increased tax [rate], which is our people, so they’ve increased it, we’re increasing it.”

Traczyk pointed out that several of the county’s sanitary districts have asked for increases in the fees property owners in those neighborhoods pay.

“We’re going to get a lot of push-back I think from the constituents,” Traczyk said.

The county did not raise tax rates for the current fiscal year, but it did raise tax rates a couple of times in the past 10 years to pay for capital projects such as new schools.

At the current rates, property in town limits assessed at $200,000 costs a $1,400 in real estate tax rates to Front Royal and Warren County combined. If both proposed rate changes pass, the same bill would increase to $1,460.

A private firm recently began a reassessment of properties in the county and in Front Royal. The impact of the reassessment will not affect the county until fiscal 2016, Stanley said. But the county also has reduced the rate when assessments increased, Stanley said.

The administration’s figures include no increase in local funding to the school system. The School Board has not yet presented its funding request to the supervisors. Stanley said further reductions in spending on the county government side could free up money for the school system.

Staff will continue to look at the numbers and try to balance the budget in time for the county to advertise tax rates. The board is expected to decide on rates at its March 25 meeting that the county can advertise for the required public hearing.

At this stage, the administrator is recommending a budget that includes no spending on new positions with the exception of expanding two part-time jobs to full-time status.

“I thoroughly expect the School Board to come in with something higher than flat funding,” Stanley said.

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