Warren County to consider tax hike

Warren County leaders will consider raising taxes to pay for employee raises, regional jail costs and to open the new middle school.

The Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 at a special meeting Tuesday to advertise proposed tax rates and the fiscal 2016 budget. The county will advertise a real estate tax rate of 61 cents per $100. Supervisors can vote for a rate at or below, but not above the advertised levy. The board will hold a public hearing on the budget and the tax rates April 14.

Supervisor Tony Carter pointed out Wednesday that the board must wait at least seven days before it can vote on the budget and rates, giving the public more time to voice opinions about the proposals.

“There was nobody on the board that was thrilled with this prospect,” Carter said. “We don’t like to raise taxes but we also want to try to maintain the things we have.”

While the current rate is 61 cents per $100, the recent reassessment performed for property in the county, including Front Royal, showed average home and land values had increased since 2011. So the current levy would result in a tax increase for property owners. The county would need to reduce the levy to 58 cents per $100 to equalize the rate and keep tax bills from increasing.

The owner of property assessed at $200,000 will see the tax bill increase by $60, from $1,160 to $1,220, under a 61-cent levy. A $300,000 property bill will increase from $1,740 to $1,830.

County Administrator Douglas Stanley explained Wednesday that revenue generated by a 3-cent tax rate increase would help pay for three major needs. Money from the first penny of the increase would fund salary increases for county government and school employees. Another penny would help the county cover its share of the operating costs and the debt on the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail.

“I would say that’s [raises] first, that and the jail, obviously, are right neck and neck,” Stanley said.

“That was pretty much a goal of this board even before we started this budget process — that we want to try to reward our employees because they do provide the services that our citizens expect,” Carter said.

The money from the third penny would go toward the expected $1.5 million needed to open the second middle school in 2017. That amount would represent about a 4-cent increase in the tax rate. Rather than impose a large rate increase at one time, the county has been setting aside money to cover the opening operating costs for the school.

The county took a similar approach with the regional jail by increasing the tax rate in small increments and setting aside the money to go toward the local share of the facility costs and the debt payments. With the penny increase as proposed, the county would have about $3.5 million saved. However, while the RSW Regional Jail Authority Board hasn’t adopted a fiscal 2016 budget, Stanley said Warren County’s share is expected to be about $4.3 million. The county will have to use money from its reserves to make up the difference.

“We’re hoping that that will buy us some time in a couple of years to be able to fully fund [the jail cost],” Stanley said.

County staff proposed salary increases to address a disparity among employees. Under the proposal, effective July 1, part-time and full-time employees hired before July 1, 2012, would receive a 2.5-percent raise. Employees hired before July 1, 2005, would receive a 2.5-percent salary increase effective Jan. 1, 2016.

The School Board presented its proposed operating budget of $52.12 million to supervisors at the meeting. The proposal represents a total increase of $594,024 over the current budget, according to information provided by the School Board. The request calls for an increase of $779,456, or 3.7 percent, in local funding. State revenue includes $237,112 as an incentive to give employees a 1.5-percent pay increase. The total cost for raises is $536,514. Should supervisors decide not to include the nearly $300,000 in local money in the budget for the salary increase, the school system would lose the state incentive. The county system still expects to receive $207,376 less from the state as a result of a loss in projected enrollment next year.

The school budget includes only the salary increase and the addition of a teacher to implement the final year of Project Lead the Way Biomedical program.

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