County to hold tax rates steady

WOODSTOCK — Shenandoah County supervisors decided Thursday to leave tax rates alone for the first time in several years.

But the Board of Supervisors also chose to not cover nearly $2 million of the school division’s funding request in fiscal 2016. The action will leave the School Board and division officials to figure out where to cut their proposed budget.

The county will advertise a real estate tax rate at the current levy of 57 cents per $100 of assessed value. All other rates will also remain unchanged. The board will be able to vote on rates at or below, but not over the advertised levy. The county also will advertise a fiscal 2016 budget of approximately $64.42 million.

The county is expected to hold a public hearing on the tax rate and the proposed budget April 16 at W.W. Robinson Elementary School.

Supervisors faced making decisions at its work session on how to close a $3.6 million imbalance between the expected revenues and proposed expenditures. County spending as proposed made up $1.16 million of the projected shortfall after the board and officials had made changes to the proposed budget. In order to close the gap, the board decided to dip into the county’s unassigned fund balance or savings. Chairman David Ferguson suggested that the county use $994,023 from savings to cover its share of next year’s loan payment for the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail.

As suggested by supervisors, the county will use $5.26 million of the unassigned fund balance to cover proposed expenses and close the budget gap. The county has approximately $21 million in its savings. The board had already agreed to use $2.18 million from savings to pay for one-time, capital projects.

Supervisor Cindy Bailey suggested that the board look to cut requested positions from the proposed budget, such as the archivist for the county library, at a salary of approximately $36,000, and others to make up for the remainder of the shortfall. Bailey noted that she doesn’t support growing the government. Ferguson said the county has, in fact, reduced the number of employees over the years. Bailey pointed out that the proposed budget includes money for more positions.

Ferguson advocated for the full-time assistant as requested by the registrar’s office. Supervisor Marsha Shruntz pushed to keep the part-time assistant in the Department of Tourism in the budget.

Ferguson continued to make suggestions on how the county could cover the remaining $168,500. But the chairman also noted that he believes the county would more than make up for that amount next fiscal year through extra revenue. The county collected more revenue and spent less money in fiscal 2014 than budgeted, Ferguson said.

Supervisor Steve Baker echoed Ferguson’s comments about the county’s finances last fiscal year.

“So I would hope that scenario would continue on and just go on faith,” Baker said.

“Faith doesn’t pay the bills,” Bailey chimed.

“I don’t see it [as] faith as much as I do good management from our administration, staff who, when we budget these things, they still go out and negotiate the best rates,” Ferguson said. “They continue to massage this budget all year long.”

Schools Superintendent Jeremy Raley and his board’s budget request made up $2.43 million of the total shortfall. Supervisors recommended that the county give the School Board approximately $515,087 from the division’s savings and proceeds from an insurance claim to go toward the system’s operational costs. That reduced the schools deficit to $1.92 million. No supervisor made recommendations on how to cover the remainder of the School Board’s request, leaving it unfunded.

The School Board will receive $797,788 in unspent money from its fiscal 2014 budget for capital needs.

This would mark the first time in several years that supervisors did not support a tax-rate increase. Ferguson and Baker are seeking the Republican Party nomination to run for re-election Nov. 3. Ferguson and Baker had in previous budgets supported tax-rate increases.

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