The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Spotsy will keep real estate tax rate level
The Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors won’t be raising taxes this year despite the school system’s plea for more money.
Supervisors on Tuesday voted 5–2 to advertise a real estate tax rate of 88 cents per $100 of assessed value and a personal property tax rate of $6.37 per $100 of assessed value. Those rates are the same as last year’s.
Supervisors Benjamin Pitts and Gary Skinner cast the dissenting votes.
Skinner wanted to advertise a penny increase to the real estate rate. The owner of an average home worth $169,933 would pay about $17 more under that proposal. “This county is wealthy enough to educate our children—that’s the bottom line,” Skinner said.
Meanwhile, Pitts said he thought the county would need to raise taxes by more than a penny to address its needs.
“There’s nothing wrong with cutting, but there’s a point where you reach the bone, and the bone begins to bleed,” Pitts said. “And when the bone begins to bleed, you begin to affect the quality of the lives of people who live in the county.”
Each penny on the real estate levy equals $1.2 million for the upcoming budget year that runs July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2014. Supervisors are scheduled to approve the spending plan and tax rates next month.
The board can lower the advertised tax rates after their budget public hearing on March 28, but they can’t raise them without another public hearing.
The majority of supervisors said it’s not the time to raise taxes given the struggling economy.
Supervisors Chairman Paul Trampe noted that state and federal taxes have increased. He acknowledged that the housing market is beginning to recover, but he called it a “fragile recovery.”
“The fact remains that Spotsylvania’s economy is taking one hit after another,” Trampe said, referencing higher state and federal taxes.
He later added: “If we take another hit on this economy and create more homeless children, we are not doing the schools any good.”
The School Board plans to ask for $3.2 million more from the county, despite Tuesday’s decision on tax rates. That increase—which amounts to almost 3 cents on the real estate tax rate—would allow the division to give 2 percent cost-of-living raises and restore 14 teaching positions.
County Administrator Doug Barnes has recommended no change in local funding for schools for the third straight year.
School Board Chairwoman Amanda Blalock recently sent a letter to Trampe with highlights of the school system’s budget request. She asked him to “Please ensure that the tax rate you set will provide financial support to keep us from making cuts that will affect the classroom.”
Blalock said in an email Tuesday night that she’s confident supervisors will put students first regardless of the tax rate. “I trust supervisors understand a strong investment in our students today will be rewarded with greater economic dividends in our county’s future,” she said.
School Board Vice Chairman James Meyer, who attended Tuesday’s supervisors meeting, said he was disappointed by the unchanged real estate tax rate but that he “understands where they’re coming from.”
Riverbend High School Principal Troy Wright told supervisors he was planning to ask them to increase that rate by 3 cents. But the board voted on the advertised rates before he could address them during the meeting’s public comment period.
“All I’m left to say is that I’m disappointed,” Wright told the board.
Riverbend, he said, has cut about 10 teaching positions over the past few years. And he said budget constraints have forced the school to eliminate a host of elective courses such as debate, psychology and African-American history.
Trampe said the only “win–win” would be to provide additional funding for schools without raising taxes. He said he would be happy to hear suggestions for cuts to the county budget—with the exception of public safety—to free up more money for education.
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402
The Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to hold a joint town hall meeting on the budget with the School Board on March 28 from 6 p.m. until 7:15 at Courtland High School’s auditorium.
It will be followed by a public hearing on the tax rate and budget at 7:30 p.m.
The board had initially planned to combine the town hall and public hearing, but County Administrator Doug Barnes said it would make more sense logistically to split them up.