Board at odds over tax rate for hearing

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County officials could propose a tax increase, though at least two supervisors say they would fight any hike.

The Board of Supervisors continued deliberations over the proposed fiscal 2017 budget on Tuesday. The county faces a $4 million deficit between the anticipated revenue and proposed expenses for the next fiscal period.

Chairman Conrad Helsley noted after the board heard spending requests from several remaining agencies that he wanted members to suggest tax rates and a potential budget figure that they could consider at their meeting Thursday. At that time the board needs to pick a tax rate and budget that the county can then advertise for public hearing, likely to occur April 7.

Finance Director Mandy Belyea will be under some pressure Thursday to come up with a revenue forecast for fiscal 2017, given the proposed tax rates, but also to calculate the county’s expenses, Helsley said.

The county would need to increase its real estate tax rate from 57 cents per $100 of assessed value to 60 cents to make up for a loss in revenue that resulted in lower property assessments. The increase would reflect a revenue-neutral rate. Even with a 3-cent increase, the county estimates that many property owners would see a slight reduction in their tax bills.

Supervisors Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz have indicated that they want to keep the real estate tax rate at 57 cents per $100 of assessed value, Helsley noted. The chairman said he wanted a consensus of the board as to what rate the county should advertise. The board can always approve a rate equal to or below the advertised levy.

Shruntz indicated that her position has not changed. Bailey echoed Shruntz’ response. Earlier in the meeting, Shruntz voiced her concerns about the need to make cuts in the budget. Shruntz suggested that Helsley get a roll-call vote of the board but the chairman said members plan to do that Thursday.

Supervisor Steve Baker pointed out that the county usually advertises a higher rate than the board typically approves. That vote comes after the board hears from the public on the matter, Baker said.

Helsley said he and Vice Chairman Richard Walker came up with a rate of 64 cents per $100 of assessed value that the county could advertise.

“I’m OK (to) take that to public hearing and let’s see what people’s thoughts are,” Baker said.

Helsley asked Belyea to provide to the board the amount of revenue the county would see from 57 cents and 64 cents. The 57-cent rate generates approximately $430,000 per penny up to a 60-cent levy. Belyea did not have the per-penny amount for rates over 60 cents. Helsley also asked staff members to provide to the board what cuts they would recommend in a budget that reflects a 57-cent tax rate. Likewise, Helsley asked staff members to show what cuts might be needed under a budget reflective of a 64-cent rate.

Bailey indicated that she and Shruntz would need to talk to Price and Belyea to see what positions the county would need to cut.

Bailey added that she would suggest cuts to any spending not otherwise mandated.

Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese said he would have supported advertising a rate of at least 63 cents but would back 64 cents.

Bailey criticized the board for even considering a tax increase.

“I just find it incredible that we’re not willing to sit down and do the work to cut the budget, which is what we should have been doing,” Bailey said. “It is so easy to just increase the taxes and I just want to remind you guys that with this reassessment not everybody’s … assessment went down.

“I have businesses here that their assessed value went up exponentially,  so we’re going to increase their taxes,” Bailey added. “I’m willing to come in, however many hours it takes, to go through this book with Mary Beth (Price) and find cuts. We don’t have the revenue and expect our county citizens to make do with what they have and, oh wait, here’s an extra X amount of dollars on your tax bill. So I am not happy about the 64 cents, whether that’s the final one or not, even advertisement.”

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