The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Orange board keeping tax rates stable
Orange County will have no increase in its real estate or personal property tax rates for the coming year.
During the supervisors’ regular monthly meeting Tuesday, a dozen speakers used the public-comment period to ask for increased school system funding over what was shown in the county administrator’s proposed budget.
In a budget work session following the meeting, the supervisors discussed—but ultimately failed to agree on—advertising a potential tax rate increase for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
During the discussion, Supervisor Shannon Abbs proposed advertising a small tax increase. “I’m not saying I am going to do it,” Abbs said, “but I hope that this sparks some good debate.”
Supervisor Lee Frame agreed, and suggested advertising a 3-cent real estate tax increase. The board can set a lower rate than advertised but cannot go higher.
“At least then we are not precluded from doing it,” he said. “If we advertise it, and the public says they don’t want that, we can always not act on it.”
Board Chairman Teel Goodwin and Supervisor Grover Wilson said they would not support any tax increase.
“Not this year,” Goodwin said. “I raised it last year, and we raised personal property taxes tremendously last year. I’m not doing it again this year.”
That left Supervisor Jim White with the tie-breaking opinion. “I don’t find the justification,” he said. “I don’t think I would support it unless you can tell me the thing or two things that we have to fix.”
White had earlier asked County Administrator Julie Summs to look at priorities in her proposed budget to determine whether any could be shifted to accommodate several of the School Board’s requested items shown as requirements from the state.
Summs explained that nearly $122,000 could be made available by using carry-forward funds from the wage reserve, deferring several purchases for fire and EMS, and eliminating funding for the E911 center.
School Board member Jerry Bledsoe, who attended the session, said the School Board’s top three priorities for additional funding are a
2 percent salary increase for employees that would be partially covered by the state, dealing with the 8 percent increase in employee health and dental insurance premiums and funding one required guidance counselor position.
The funds that the county administrator had identified for possible shifting, he said, would be close to what would be needed to fund those three items.
“I am being very general,” he said, “but I think it is in the ballpark to make those three items happen.”
White then explained that, since his proposed adjustment addressed the School Board’s top three priorities, “I think a lot of the argument for a tax increase gets reduced.”
Abbs expressed concern over the salary increase for school employees. “I don’t like some county employees getting a raise, and others not getting one. I struggle with that,” she said.
Frame asked how much would be required to give all county employees a 2 percent raise, and was told that it would cost $269,000.
After failing to gather support for an advertised half-cent tax increase to fund that, Frame said, “I guess we are done.”
The budget work session scheduled for tonight Thursday was cancelled.