FRONT ROYAL - County Administrator Doug Stanley on Tuesday gave a presentation overviewing the proposed 2019-20 budget in a room packed with 200-plus citizens before a public hearing regarding the matter.
The county has advertised a six-cent tax increase, which would provide about $2.7 million in additional funding, to cover expenses in the proposed budget.
Stanley said “cost drivers” of the proposed budget include: a 2.5 percent cost of living raises for county employees; a 3.1 percent health insurance cost increase; and $1.2 million in additional funding the county will provide the schools.
When Stanley said the issues at the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority do not impact the proposed budget, citizens responded with laughter.
He explained this statement by saying that the county’s contribution of the EDA’s operating budget is the same as in past years and that what the county owes the authority in debt service payments is the same as last year.
The supervisors so far have approved a $760,000 cap to be spent on issues relating to EDA troubles. Of that money, some has already funded a forensic audit of the EDA’s finances and some will be used to pay for the authority’s legal services. The EDA has passed a resolution stating it will attempt to pay back the county.
If the county had not approved that $760,000, Stanley said the county would have put that money aside in reserve accounts for special projects. He said most of the tax increase is going toward schools, which would need the money regardless of what happened with the EDA.
Supervisors Chairman Dan Murray agreed after the meeting that the $760,000 would have been in a special funds budget and would not have allowed the supervisors to pursue a lower tax increase.
The town has said it will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars per year because ex-EDA director Jennifer McDonald allegedly lied about the low-interest New Markets Tax Credit loan being closed to fund construction of the new Front Royal Police Department headquarters.
The county hoped to fund construction of the new Rivermont Volunteer Fire Department’s station, renovations at the Health and Human Services complex and renovations at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School through that low-interest loan.
County officials have said that unlike the town, they were never lied to, and knew all along that the projects may not qualify for the loan.
The budget will be up for approval during the board’s 7 p.m. May 7 meeting. Also at that meeting, the supervisors will hold a public hearing on the proposed tax rate.