Board deadlocks 3-3 on tax rates

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County leaders failed Tuesday to agree on new tax rates for 2016.

The Board of Supervisors deadlocked 3-3 on a motion to raise the real estate tax rate from 57 cents to 60 cents per $100 of assessed value for this calendar year. Supervisors Steve Baker, Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz voted against the motion at the special meeting. Chairman Conrad Helsley, Vice Chairman Richard Walker and Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese voted in favor of setting the rate at 60 cents. The motion died on the tie vote.

Bailey suggested that the board could have balanced the budget with a rate closer to 57 cents if members agreed to using savings to pay the local share of the cost to run the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail, reduced the school spending request by another $1 million and cut positions covered this year out of the county’s fund balance.

“I’m committed to balancing the budget and reducing government and I’d like to see more of that,” Bailey said prior to the vote.

Baker said “pillars of the community” had urged him to support funding for the school system.

“Having said that, I feel that we need to really look at the young people,” Baker said. “They are the future of this county. We need to give them the best opportunity that we can to succeed in the future because they’re gonna be the future leaders of this county.”

Baker went on to say that he runs a business and pays a substantial amount in taxes but is “willing to step up for the future of this county.”

Shruntz said her constituents voiced different opinions.

“Senior citizens are willing to pay their fair share of taxes and they do support the schools but they don’t have the money for a tax increase,” Shruntz said.

Walker said he saw adjusting the rate to 60 cents not as an increase but a reallocation of the tax base. The county lowered the tax rate in 2006 from 68 cents to 51 cents as the result of an increase in property values. Walker said that action was not a tax cut and 45 acres he purchased in 2004 at $1,600 per acre were reassessed in 2005 at $4,000 per acre, resulting in an increase in his bill. The county lowered the tax rate from 51 cents to 47 cents in 2010 and Walker said his land’s value increase to $6,000 per acre.

Walker said his analysis for 2010 showed that the county shifted the tax balance from residential property to land not in the special taxation program. The latest reassessment showed the value of open land decrease 11-12 percent, Walker said. The tax base now is being reallocated to residential properties.

Helsley said he had concerns about the compromise of 60 cents. While the board has said it would only give the school system the same amount allocated in the current budget, Helsley said it actually equates to a reduction given the expected increase in health insurance costs and Virginia Retirement System contributions. Helsley added that some of the money used to balance the budget will need to be replaced when the board starts working on the subsequent spending plan next spring.

A motion to increase the tax rate on personal property also died on a tie vote. Helsley, Baker and Neese voted in favor of a motion to increase the rate from $3.50 to $3.60 per $100 of the assessed value. Bailey, Shruntz and Walker voted against it.

Treasurer Cindy George told the board that her office is on a tight deadline to print and mail bills for real estate and personal property taxes. Bills must be mailed 14 days before the June 5 deadline to pay, or May 23.

Baker said at one point that he would support the 60-cent tax rate as proposed in the motion that failed. Rather than revisit the matter, the board decided to postpone action on the tax-rate ordinance to its April 26 night meeting.

The board voted 5-1 to delay action on an ordinance establishing the fiscal 2017 budget. Neese voted against postponing action on the budget. Walker reminded the board that balancing the budget includes the use of rollback taxes collected from landowners who take their property out of the special taxation program. In order to use the money the board must rescind the resolution adopted in September 2014 that allows up to $50,000 in rollback taxes per year to go to the purchase of development rights program.

Also at the meeting, the board adopted 2017 budgets for the Stoney Creek and Toms Brook-Maurertown Sanitary Districts and resolutions approving additional tax rates in the districts.

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