FRONT ROYAL – After reviewing expected expenses in the coming years, the Town Council unanimously agreed at its Monday work session to advertise a 1-cent real estate tax increase.
The proposed tax rate will be advertised for two weeks, and be subject to a March 12 public hearing. The council can approve an increase up to or below 1-cent, but a higher rate must be re-advertised and discussed at another public hearing.
The real estate tax is now is 13.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. Town Finance Director B.J. Wilson said that a 1-cent increase would generate about $110,000. He noted that if there was not a penny increase, and the New Market Tax Credit refinance rate remains level, the town would be about $80,000 in the hole.
“This was a very tight budget year…we had to cut a lot of projects,” he said.
The $10.21 million new police station is one major expense that the town will have to cover. Councilman Jacob Meza voted in favor of the police station knowing a tax increase would be necessary and said, “I’m still in support of that.”
Councilman William Sealock said he would be in favor of a tax hike, and recalled predicting a 2 to 3 cent increase when the police station was approved.
“I took a lot of heat for even making that statement. Last year in several sessions we’ve already discussed that this year we were going to go with one cent just to keep us moving on the Police Department,” he said.
Councilman Eugene Tewalt said he was the only person to vote against the police station “because of the amount of money.”
“All the rest of you guys voted to do it. Now, show that you’re willing to do it,” he said.
Since the police station is approved, Tewalt would rather see taxes increased slowly over a few years than all at once.
“Get the money gradually. It doesn’t hurt the taxpayers as bad if you let them have a penny or half-a-penny than to add 3 or 4 cents,” he said.
Mayor Hollis Tharpe agreed and said, “little bites are better than big bites.”
Wilson recommended increasing the tax “a half-cent over the next few years.”
Town Councilman John Connolly said he would have a “tough time” voting for an increase when the town is “sitting on $1.5 million in the general fund above the three-month reserve.”
Councilman Gary Gillipsie said he does not want a tax increase and would rather find the money somewhere else.