By Alex Bridges
WOODSTOCK -- Shenandoah County leaders approved a tax increase for homeowners but stopped short of the steep hike as proposed.
The Board of Supervisors voted 4-2 to raise the real estate tax rate by 3 cents from 54 cents to 57 cents per $100 of the assessed value. The tax on property valued at $200,000 will increase by $60 from $1,080 to $1,140. The board had considered an increase of 5.5 cents to 59 cents per $100 of assessed value.
District 2 Supervisor Steve Baker made a motion to increase the real estate tax rate by 3 cents from 54 cents to 57 cents per $100 of the assessed value. The tax increase also applies to mobile homes. Chairman David Ferguson, Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley, District 1 Supervisor John R. "Dick" Neese and Baker voted in favor of the increase. District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey and District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz voted against the motion.
District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz asked the board to support a budget that did not "penalize" homeowners.
"Hitting the 'easy' button to raise the tax rate is a thing of the past," Shruntz said.
Neese said he had hoped the board would pass a budget without a tax increase but recognized the need to move forward.
"I won't hold up the increase like Washington and Richmond," Neese said.
Bailey opposed any tax increases.
"The people demand that we hold the line on budget and taxes," Bailey said. "I heard from far greater numbers before the public hearing against raising taxes."
Bailey cited information provided by the Department of Social Services during the budget-making process that showed the increasing numbers of people in need.
"Certainly I don't like the situation," Baker said. "I'm a property owner so it's going to hit me, too. ... I want to help the next generation of kids."
Baker pointed out that most of the nearly 70 people who spoke at the public hearing on the budget and tax rates said they supported the increase.
Neither Ferguson nor Helsley commented on the increase before the vote.
With the vote on a real estate tax rate lower than proposed, the Board of Supervisors voted to approve a fiscal 2015 budget that reflects the reduction in funding for the school system. Bailey and Shruntz voted against motions related to the passage of the fiscal 2015 budget.
The school system would have received $2.44 million in additional local funds with a 5 ½ cent increase in the tax rate. The 3 cent increase means the school system will receive $1.33 million. As Finance Director Garland Miller Jr. explained after the meeting, the reduction will be reflected in the total county budget and then as a transfer to the school system. The amount is approximately $1.11 million less than proposed.
Superintendent Jeremy Raley said after the meeting that the School Board would need to hold work sessions to discuss how to adjust its proposed budget to reflect the reduction of $1.11 million. The School Board had asked for funding to cover salary increases and other needs.
The Board of Supervisors also voted to approve the ordinance setting other tax rates for the county.
The rates remain unchanged for personal property at $3.50 per $100 of assessed value and $3.15 for machinery and tools and $3.15 for personal property-business. Merchants capital tax charged to businesses also stays at 60 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Bailey voted against the personal property tax rate, indicating she wanted to roll it back to the previous levy.
Bailey and Shruntz voted against the motion to set the tax rates for personal property. Bailey said she thought the personal property tax rates should be reduced.
Also at the meeting, the board voted 6-0 to approve budgets for the Stoney Creek and Toms Brook-Maurertown sanitary districts. The ad valorum tax rate for real estate remains unchanged at 16 cents per $100 of assessed value in the Stoney Creek Sanitary District and 4 cents per $100 of assessed value in the Toms Brook-Maurertown Sanitary District.
Supervisors also adopted a resolution to allocate tax relief from the personal property tax on qualifying vehicles.
The board postponed until their night meeting in May a request by Sheriff Timothy C. Carter to allow his department to use money in the asset forfeiture fund to purchase vehicles and other equipment as part of the fiscal 2015 budget. The board voted 5-1 to postpone the matter, with Bailey opposing the motion.
The fund contains money awarded to the department through its law enforcement operations. Carter asked for $706,823 to include money for six patrol vehicles, body cameras, SWAT equipment, contractual services and tuition assistance. The amount also includes $151,166 from a grant awarded to the department with which the sheriff intends to buy a tactical robot at $124,936, a K-9 drug dog with training, methamphetamine lab tactical equipment and photographic gear for crime scenes. The sheriff also plans to spend $142,827 to hire four school resource deputies.
In response to a question from Bailey, Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley said the board had some outstanding questions about some of the items Carter has indicated would be covered by the amount.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org