Tax hike, savings could balance county budget

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County homeowners could see their tax bills increase again under next year’s proposed budget.

County Administrator Doug Stanley presented a balanced spending plan for fiscal 2017 to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that would include a 3 cent increase on the real estate tax rate. The county faces a $4.04 million shortfall between the expected revenue and anticipated expenses. Stanley balanced the budget with the tax increase, money from savings and numerous cuts in the spending plan.

Whether or not the board adopts the entire tax increase, a portion or seeks to balance the budget through other means remains uncertain. The board stopped short last spring of adopting a 3 cent increase meant to cover expected costs and instead raised the levy by 1.5 cents to 59.5 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Should the board adopt a 3 cent rate increase, owners of property valued at $200,000 would see their bills go up $60, from $1,190 to $1,250. A bill on property valued at $300,000 would increase $90, from $1,785 to $1,875. Owners of property in Front Royal also pay real estate tax to the town, though an increase in its rate is not yet under consideration.

A 3 cent increase on the tax rate would generate approximately $1.21 million in additional revenue. Each cent on the county tax rate generates approximately $404,000. The county would put the revenue from 1 cent of the rate increase toward the local share of the cost to run the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail, the opening of the new middle school and operations of the school system.

Under Stanley’s proposal, the county would use approximately $1 million from the fund balance or savings. The amount would include $345,541 to cover the local share of the jail costs and $585,000 out of savings to cover the cost of several capital projects. Localities typically use savings in emergencies to cover one-time expenses such as large projects. They try to keep a minimum amount in savings to maintain their borrowing power.

Stanley presented a list of numerous reductions and eliminations made to spending requests, including new positions in the Department of Fire and Rescue Services. Stanley left a few new, requested positions in his proposal for the Clerk of the Circuit Court Office, the Ccommonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, the Building Inspections Department, a buildings and grounds custodian and the emergency communications center.

The county also might increase the special assessments property owners in the High Knob and Shenandoah Farms sanitary districts under Stanley’s proposed budget.

Stanley also has proposed that the county impose a 20 percent fee on delinquent taxes it collects. The county has approximately $3 million in unpaid taxes, Stanley estimated. The county could expect to collect an additional $25,000 by imposing the fee.

The shortfall now takes into consideration the School Board’s proposed budget that anticipates approximately $54.81 million in revenue and expenses, based on Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposed state budget and an 8.1 percent increase in the county appropriation. The School Board’s proposed budget also takes into account the addition of five elementary positions; a nearly 20 percent increase in the employer contribution to health insurance at $608,493; and a 3 percent salary increase for all full-time employees at a cost of $1.13 million.

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