Supervisors OK budget, tax increases

Warren County approved its fiscal year 2016 budget on Tuesday night following one final public hearing and discussion on proposed tax increases.

The approved budget totals $98.17 million and includes a real estate tax increase to 59.5 cents per $100 of assessed value on real estate and mobile homes.

The new tax is an increase from the previous rate of 58 cents, but lower than the 61 cents that originally went up for discussion on Tuesday night. The final budget is about $200,000 lower than the proposed budget.

A couple of area residents voiced their disapproval of the tax increases in a public hearing prior to the passing of the budget.

Front Royal resident Timothy Ratigan again voiced his concerns regarding the tax increase as well as what he described as “spending problem, not a revenue problem.”

He said, “The time has come for full accountability. As our elected officials, you have the awesome duty to use our tax dollars in a responsible manner.”

Larry Diehm, of Bentonville, also voiced his opposition regarding the tax increases by drawing a comparison to a “tax-and-spend cycle” he said he observed in Illinois.

“The county needs to find a way to live within its means and not on the backs of the home owners,” Diehm said.

Supervisor Daniel Murray talked about a responsibility the county has to “maintain the infrastructure” of the county as well as its schools and planning and zoning.

“There is a cost that we have to assume, and that’s something that people have to understand when we finalize where we’re at,” Murray said.

The original proposed increases, as Stanley explained on April 14, was one way for the county to generate revenue for debt on the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail as well as the cost for a new middle school.

The middle school, which is slated for construction on 32 acres of land at the intersection of Happy Creek Road and Leach Run Parkway, carries an estimated cost of $1.5 million for 2017.

Stanley explained that, as a result of the reduced tax increase, the county would cover the shortfall by “pulling the $404,556” from its general funds balance.

Even with the use of general funds to cover the shortfall, Stanley indicated that the county will still have a deficit of just under $890,000 for the county to “make up the following year.”

The reduced tax increase also, Stanley noted, “would reduce the operations for the second middle school to $202,278.”

The school project will have a remaining deficit of $1.16 million after the 2016 fiscal year.

Every penny of the tax increase essentially amounts for $404,000 in revenue for the county, which will total $1.2 million in the fiscal year 2016.

Supervisor Tony Carter, who pushed for the approval of the higher real estate tax rate, noted that the original idea was to “take a penny per year” to meet operating costs for the new middle school.

With the approved tax increase in place for 2016, the county faces potentially having to raise taxes even more in 2017 to meet future needs.

“Basically, the future board is looking at somewhere between 5 and 7 percent tax increases,” Carter noted.

Murray suggested that the board is “being really fiscally conservative for our people.”

“We’re not spending money unjustly, maybe right now we’re being too conservative,” Murray added. “And maybe in a couple of years, we could be looking at a 4 or 5-cent tax increase, but that’s reality.”

Carter said, “Nobody likes to raise taxes at all, but I don’t think they really like 5-, 6- or 7-cent increases.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com