Split board OKs tax increase

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County real estate owners can expect an increase in their next tax bills.

The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on Tuesday to adopt the fiscal 2018 budget that assumes an increase in the real estate tax rate from 62 cents to 65 cents per $100 of assessed value. The majority of the additional revenue from the tax increase will cover the cost to open and operate the new middle school for the first year.

The budget calls for the county to spend $105.62 million on county government and the school division’s operating fund. Other tax rates remain unchanged in the budget.

North River District Supervisor Daniel Murray Jr. made the motion to adopt the budget after he warned county departments against asking for any more money in the next fiscal period and citing complaints from residents, not all of which were based on facts.

“The money tree for government has died,” Murray said.

Fork District Supervisor Archie Fox said he supported the budget saying that the needs justify the increase. Shenandoah District Supervisor Thomas Sayre expressed concern that the county cannot increase other levies such as the tax on cigarettes. Putting the burden on real estate owners is unfair, Sayre said.

Fox then made a motion to amend Murray’s motion to stop subsidizing the Front Royal Golf Club maintained by the county. Sayre seconded Fox’s amendment. Murray questioned Fox’s amendment and what it would do to the golf club.

“I think it should be self-sufficient,” Fox said. “For me, it’s an unnecessary expense.”

Fox went on to suggest that the golf club could revert back to the original owner.

Happy Creek District Supervisor Tony Carter said he agreed with Fox in part but argued that the county’s pool remains in operation, despite losing money. Carter said he doesn’t think the golf club will become self-sufficient. Earlier in the meeting, Murray said he spoke with someone who expressed interest in taking over the golf course but wouldn’t identify the person.

Chairwoman Linda Glavis said the future of the golf course deserves more discussion. Fox’s motion failed on a 3-2 vote. Fox and Sayre voted in favor of the motion. Carter, Glavis and Murray voted against the amendment.

Sayre said he supported the budget but had heartburn about the tax increase. Murray said the tax increase would amount to an extra $30 on a property valued at $100,000.

Glavis recalled that the county fell behind last year when the board chose not to adopt an advertised increase in the tax rate. Glavis added that the county is now obligated to open the new middle school. Glavis said she supported the 3-cent increase.

Carter noted that last year some board members complained about waste and “fluff” in the budget. Through the process of deliberating on the budget, supervisors found the budget didn’t contain much they could cut, Carter said.

Carter, in playing “devil’s advocate,” suggested hypothetically a handful of cuts to the budget to reduce the tax rate increase from 3 cents to 1 cent. However, some of those cuts are ongoing expenses that the county would need to catch up on, Carter explained.

Sayre and Fox voted against the tax rate increase and budget. Carter, Glavis and Murray voted in favor of the new tax rate and budget. Carter asked Fox and Sayre where they would cut the budget if they did not support the tax increase.

Supervisors also approved changes to the tax rates for the following sanitary districts:
• Shenandoah Shores: from $115 per lot plus 17 cents per $100 of assessed value on improvements to $120 per lot plus 20 cents per $100 of assessed value on improvements
• Blue Ridge: from $65 per lot plus 23 cents per $100 of assessed value on improvements to $65 per lot plus 28 cents per $100 of assessed value on improvements
• Shenandoah Farms: from $240 to $275 per unimproved lot and from $250 to $285 per improved lot

Tax rates in the other sanitary districts would remain unchanged. Several Shenandoah Farms residents spoke in favor

Also at the meeting, the board unanimously approved an increase in the hotel and lodging tax from 2 percent to 5 percent. As indicated in the approved motion, the county would earmark the revenue collected in excess of the 2 percent solely for spending on tourism efforts. The Virginia General Assembly approved legislation earlier this year that allowed the county the option to increase the tax rate. The Board of Directors of the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce supported the increase, President Niki Foster stated in a letter to the county administrator. Supervisors heard from another board member during the public hearing who expressed support for the increase.

Carter said he supported the idea but suggested that supervisors and the Front Royal Town Council discuss the effect of the increase. Glavis said she also supported the increase.

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