Supervisor suggests budget with no tax hike

WOODSTOCK – A Shenandoah County supervisor has proposed a way to balance the budget without a tax increase.

The Board of Supervisors discussed the proposed fiscal 2018 budget at a work session Tuesday – the first meeting since the public hearing on the spending plan and an advertised increase in the real estate tax rate.

But Supervisor Cindy Bailey, in her push to maintain the same spending level next year as in the current period, said at the work session that she identified ways to reach that goal through eliminating many of the proposed increases. Bailey said her proposal allows the county to keep the tax rate at 60 cents per $100, leaving a budget deficit of approximately $115,000. Bailey’s calculations also take into account Vice Chairman Richard Walker’s suggestion that the county should expect to see an additional $300,000-$400,000 in revenue from taxes that otherwise does not appear in the proposed budget.

The board has not yet agreed to reduce the amount of local funding for the school division. However, one supervisor proposed to limit the increase in the allocation for the school operating budget to $287,032, representing a 2.5 percent increase over the current amount. Another supervisor, Bailey, proposed that the board limit the total school budget to $562,749, or an increase of $65,866 over the current period.

Supervisors advertised a tax rate of 64 cents per $100 – an increase of 4 cents over the current levy that would bring in an estimated $1.75 million. The board on Tuesday eliminated some of the additional expenses from the proposed budget. Much of the discussion focused on spending for the Department of Fire and Rescue, overtime pay and other needs.

Chairman Conrad Helsley expressed doubt about some of Walker’s and Bailey’s calculations. Bailey suggested allocating approximately $562,749 – money the school system did not spend in the previous year – to the division’s operating fund rather than to capital projects as requested. Supervisors at a previous meeting agreed to give the carryover money to the school division for capital improvements. Supervisors already agreed to allocate $450,000 to the schools for capital projects.

At one point during the discussion the board agreed to scale back enough of the proposed spending increases to reduce the needed tax rate to 62 percent. Supervisors Steve Baker and John R. “Dick” Neese expressed concern about reducing the tax rate below 62 cents.

Earlier in the work session, Walker argued that residents who felt bullied by the “raise-my-taxes” crowd deserved a break after several years of tax increases. Helsley pointed out that in one of the years the county increased the rate only to make up for the average decrease in property values and thus keeping revenue steady.

Proposed changes to the fiscal 2018 budget included a reduction of $200,000 in the county’s share of the cost to run the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail. Walker contended that the county has overestimated its share of the cost in past budgets.

In the work session, Bailey and Finance Director Harrison Nicholson Jr. made adjustments to the proposed spending plan while the other supervisors listened to Walker explain his position on the budget. Nicholson and Bailey then explained the changes they made to the budget.

Walker also expressed his reaction to the public hearing held on the proposed budget and tax rates and criticized some of the speakers, saying that one likely makes more money than many county taxpayers while another who owns properties probably would pass along a tax increase to less fortunate tenants. Walker didn’t identify any of the speakers by name with whom he took issue.

Supervisors plan to hold a work session at 5 p.m. Tuesday before the board’s regular meeting at 7 p.m. during which members expect to take action on the budget and tax rates.

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