Budget, tax hike draws supporters, foes

Charles Prince, of Front Royal, addresses the Warren County Board of Supervisors during its budget hearing Tuesday night at the government center. Eighteen area residents spoke during the public hearing. Rich Cooley/Daily
Warren County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Archie Fox listens as Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Greg Drescher comments on the county budget Tuesday night during the public hearing. Rich Cooley/Daily
Dennis Willingham speaks on the struggle of a paying taxes on a fixed income during Warren County's budget hearing Tuesday night at the county's government center. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County leaders heard support and opposition on Tuesday to a proposed tax increase and next year’s budget.

The Board of Supervisors held a public hearing on the proposed fiscal 2017 budget at a special meeting in the government center. Dozens of people filled the boardroom. The hearing also covered a proposed increase in the real estate tax rate from 59½ cents to 63 cents per $100 of the assessed value. Tax rates on personal property and other levies remain unchanged under the proposal.

A handful of people spoke in support of the Samuels Public Library and its request for additional, local funding in the budget. A few people said a tax increase would hurt them because they live on fixed incomes and did not receive a raise this year.

County Administrator Doug Stanley proposed a total fiscal 2017 budget of $102.22 million. That reflects an increase of $4.04 million or 4.12 percent over the current, $98.17 million budget. Stanley gave a presentation on the proposed budget and tax rates, explaining the drivers of the spending plan.

Jim Irre compared the uses of the Samuels Library and the Front Royal Golf Club. Eire said roughly 65 percent of the county’s population uses the library. Less than one percent of the population uses the golf course. Eire said the county should take serious consideration for funding the golf course if it doesn’t attract more users and can’t sustain itself.

Joan Richardson, president of the Friends of the Samuels Library, spoke on behalf of the library and asked the board to support the facility’s budget request. Richardson said dozens of people attended various events held at and offered by the library.

Charles Prince said he lives on social security and noted that his income did not increase so a higher tax rate has him concerned. Prince also volunteers with the Rivermont Volunteer Fire Company and the organization has lost much of its fundraising ability because the county closed its meeting hall and construction of a new station has not yet started.

Robin Laird said she appreciates that the county has a pay-as-you-go philosophy but that approach affects her as it increases how much it spends each year. The county needs to live within its income just as she has to live within hers, Laird said.

Dennis Willingham echoed Prince’s comment about not receiving a raise in his social security while the county proposes salary increases. Willingham questioned why the county would fall behind in revenue if it continues to see more industries and businesses take root.

Ralph Rinaldi, a member of the county Planning Commission and of the Property Owners of the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District, said the board of directors supports the $10 increase in the fees paid by the property owners as proposed.

Schools Superintendent Greg Drescher spoke about the system’s budget request, noting that the division needs to offer a competitive wage. The 3-percent increase wouldn’t put salaries in the middle but would rather keep the division from falling behind, Drescher said. The division faces a 19.7-percent increase in health insurance costs. The budget doesn’t include additional personnel, technology or other necessary items.

Inette Miller Imaikalani, Sarah Chichester, Melody Hotek and Marilyn Coffron spoke in support of funding the library’s budget request, noting the facility’s offerings to the community, many of them free. Patron John Kovac also spoke in favor of the library.

Dr. Charles Huber asked the board to approve the tax rate increase. Huber also serves on the library’s board of directors and spoke in support of the facility’s budget request. He said the employees deserve the salary increases that other county workers would receive under the proposed budget.

Michele Kopcsak works at the library and volunteers as one of the three teachers at the facility. Kopcsak teaches English as a second language. She talked to the board about programs offered through ESL at the library. Kopcsak asked the board to reconsider funding the library’s budget requests. Kopcsak’s student Fengru Lin told the board about her experience attending the ESL classes since September.

Barbara Stevens said Samuels Library is “the heart and soul of our community.”

Kim Okland, president of the Warren County Education Association and teacher at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, spoke in support of the budget. Okland said the county school system offers one of the best teacher training programs but loses recruits to other systems for better pay.

Jim Naccash said that given the turnout at the hearing the community wants the county to fund its library. The facility helps volunteer civic groups in their efforts in the community, Naccash said. He added that the county already made the investment in the facility so it should continue to support it.

Tom Howarth said teachers also look for and need affordable housing. Howarth suggested the county put recordation tax revenue into a trust that it could use for affordable housing. He said the county should put money aside to help the poor children in the community. Howarth said if the county invests money in the children now, it might not need to spend as much on the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail. He said he doesn’t mind paying more taxes to improve the library or higher fees to play at the county’s golf club.

Linda Crowder, a teacher, said she works 60 hours a week and receives a salary for 40. Crowder said one year a salary increase went to retirement.

Linda McDonough, of Shenandoah Farms, said she did not support an increase in the tax rate or the fees the sanitary district property owners pay. McDonough criticized the county for moving forward on many projects that it cannot pay for. She also questioned the increasing costs of road projects in the district, none of which currently involve her road. The property owners association doesn’t speak for her, McDonough said.

Dee Schools, also a Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District resident, spoke against the proposed increase in the property owners’ fees. Schools asked the board to bring spending under control and consider limiting the road projects. Schools also asked the board to think about the senior citizens on fixed incomes.

The board expects to act on the budget and tax rates at its regular meeting next Tuesday.

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

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