Board of Supervisors hears comments on budget, taxes
FRONT ROYAL — Critics of Warren County’s proposed fiscal 2016 budget say supervisors need to curb spending and not raise taxes.
The Board of Supervisors held a public hearing on the spending plan at a special meeting Tuesday. The board plans to hold a separate hearing next Tuesday on the proposed real estate taxes and sanitary district fees.
County Administrator Douglas Stanley gave a presentation on the total proposed budget of $98.37 million that includes government and school division funding. The budget as proposed takes into account a tax rate of 61 cents per $100 of assessed value on real estate and mobile homes. The proposed rate actually represents a 5 percent increase because real estate values rose in the most recent reassessment.
Outgoing public schools Superintendent Pam McInnis spoke in support of the proposed budget that includes money for employee salary increases. She also thanked the board for thinking ahead to set aside money to cover the opening of the planned second middle school in 2017.
“Those funds will ensure a seamless opening of that school,” McInnis said. “We’re well aware of the financial obligations of the county and that you realize that one of your main functions, by law, is to adequately fund public education. And, personally, … as a taxpaying citizen of the town and county, I support the proposed tax increase to enable the county to provide needed wages and services.”
But two residents voiced opposition to the budget that assumes an increase in taxes. Tim Ratigan criticized at least two supervisors for supporting increases in taxes while also aligning with the Republican Party.
Ratigan recalled that a Republican Party mailer sent out during the Front Royal Town Council elections last year pointed out that a vote for anyone other than GOP candidates meant a vote for tax increases. Ratigan said the slogan should now reflect that a vote for the Board of Supervisors was one for higher taxes and bigger government.
“This is the second year of either passing or requesting a tax increase from a group that their elections are based on a platform of smaller government and no tax increase,” Ratigan said.
Ratigan noted that he worked on Supervisor Daniel Murray Jr.’s election campaign four years ago. Ratigan recalled that, at the time, people were told that the county would not need to raise taxes to help pay for the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail and that revenue from the Dominion power plant would cover any shortfall. Ratigan warned Murray that a vote for a tax increase would likely cost him his re-election bid.
The county’s share of the regional jail costs is one of the drivers of the budget and tax rate increase, Stanley explained.
Matt Tederick focused his argument on schools spending, pointing out that the operating budget for the division has increased by 12 percent, from $46.03 million to the proposed $51.54 million, from fiscal 2011 to the current period. In the same, five-year span, Tederick argued that the student population increased by 0.26 percent, or by 14 students. The number of teachers has grown by 2.5 percent, from 407 to 417, according to Tederick’s data. The number of employees has increased by 4.1 percent, from 630 to 656.
Tederick commented that “there’s always a reason or excuse to increase spending.”
“However, when compared to population growth and inflation, student membership, it’s my opinion the county needs to hold the line on tax increases and cap spending and control spending,” Tederick said.
Tederick also questioned the county’s allocation of $23.8 million in the rainy day fund for special projects and suggested instead that the board use some of the money to help fill a revenue gap in next year’s budget and forego raising taxes. Tederick contended that these funds are not restricted.
The county has a financial policy of keeping at least 15 percent of its unrestricted fund balance in reserves. Stanley pointed out that the proposed budget, if adopted, calls for the county to use rainy day funds and that would cause that amount to fall slightly below the 15 percent minimum. Stanley said the hope is the county would see increased revenue and then replenish those funds to at least the 15 percent mark.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org