Supervisor predicts tough work on budget
Shenandoah County leaders can expect another challenging budget-making session this year, says the newest supervisor.
Richard Walker won the District 3 seat on the Board of Supervisors in the Nov. 3 election, defeating longtime supervisor David Ferguson. Walker said Thursday that the county faces the tough task of balancing the fiscal 2017 budget with less revenue than possibly expected or hoped.
The county put off the real estate reassessment until 2015 with the hope that the market would have improved. According to Walker, the figures show that did not happen.
“The budget this year is going to be a real challenge,” Walker said. “The (real estate) assessments have come below 2010 and we don’t know at this point exactly what the ramifications will be.”
Total assessed value of land in the county fell by about 4.1 percent since the last assessment performed in 2010, Walker said. Commercial property showed a small increase in value. But properties of more than 100 acres dropped in value by 11-12 percent, Walker noted.
Larger parcels that showed the steepest decrease in value are more likely taxed in the county’s land-use taxation program, Walker said. This would have less of an effect on the revenue numbers, he added. The county reduces the value of land in the program as an incentive for the owner to keep using the property for agricultural purposes. As such, the owner can receive a significant break on the tax bill for the property.
“Until we get those numbers, we won’t know exactly how big the shortfall is but we can be assured there will be a shortfall,” Walker said.
The supervisor pointed out that the county’s current budget assumed an increase in tax revenue of $125,000 from the reassessment. That’s not going to happen, he said. Walker noted that the county took $2 million from reserves to cover recurring expenses.
“The budget is going to be the biggest thing, as far as the first six months anyway, in determining what’s real and where we can limit expenditures and limit increases as far as going forward,” Walker said.
The supervisor said the $2 million from reserves plus a $1 million shortfall would equate to 7.5 cents on the real estate tax rate.
“That makes the task of trying to maintain services while controlling expenses and limiting as much as possible any tax increases – it will make that daunting,” Walker said.
Walker said he had a good conversation with District 6 Supervisor Conrad Helsley earlier this week and the two found some common ground. Helsley won re-election to a fourth term. Walker said he also talked recently with District 1 Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese.
“I do not see the confrontation and division that has divided the board in the past,” Walker said. “I think everybody realizes that we can afford to disagree and we will disagree on some things but the object is to maintain communication and work together.”
Walker also has reached out to school officials and met recently with Superintendent Jeremy Raley and Director of Finance Cynthia Page. Earlier in the campaign season Walker presented some figures about the school system. Supporters of the system’s funding requests questioned those numbers.
“We have to find out what’s real and we have to be able to analyze these numbers and know that we’re all on the same page,” Walker said. “They have followed through and have done some reconciliations and so we are now able to see what some of the differences in those numbers are and I think, going forward, Dr. Raley knows that I’m a numbers guy and I will ask questions and he has been very, very forthcoming.”
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org