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City tax rate is on the agenda

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Fredericksburg homeowners face up to a 9 cent increase in the real estate tax rate for the coming year but they can tell city leaders their thoughts on that Tuesday.

City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget at 7:30 p.m., and councilors welcome public input.

City Manager Bev Cameron proposed a fiscal 2014 budget that raises the real estate tax rate by 3 cents, but after initial budget work sessions, the council opted to advertise a 9 cent rate hike instead.

Once a rate is advertised, the council can lower it but not raise it above the rate.

Each penny of the city’s real estate tax generates about $345,000 in revenue.

The current rate is 74 cents per $100 of assessed value. A 3 cent increase means the owner of a median-priced home in the city—a home assessed at $256,200—would pay $1,972.74, an increase of $76.86 over this year’s tax.

A 9 cent increase would raise the same homeowner’s bill by $230.58 to $2,126.46.

But Fred Howe, the councilman who instigated the bulk of the advertised tax-rate hike, said he favors no real-estate tax increase for the budget that goes into effect July 1.

“Am I going to support the 9 cent increase? We did it for an education, to identify the impact,” he said, referring to himself and council members Brad Ellis, Matt Kelly and Bea Paolucci.

He said he proposed a 7 cent rate hike to bring awareness of the annual cost of the $35 million courthouse that’s expected to be completed by the end of next year.

“I’m a no-tax guy predominantly,” he said.

Howe’s ideas have stirred community discussion and raised questions about his plans to build a house in Stafford County and his decision to move his business outside the city.

He didn’t hesitate to confirm those facts, explaining that he moved the corporate headquarters for his engineering firm to Westmoreland County in 2007 because of the city’s Business and Professional Occupancy License Tax. He completely closed his city operations on Jan. 1 when he opened another office in Stafford, but said his business primarily is run via the Internet. He has employees in three states working from their homes for clients in six states.

As far as his residence, Howe said his eventual move to Stafford is the result of a campaign promise to his wife.

Had he won the 2011 mayoral race, the couple would have stayed in the city for his tenure. Since he didn’t, he is honoring an agreement with his wife to build a new house on 36 acres they bought in Stafford a few years ago.

They’ve not yet begun building, and he won’t leave before his council term expires in June 2014.

It is that deadline, he said, that drives him to press for fiscal changes in the city, which he likened to a ship headed for dangerous waters.

“I’m working with folks to mentor to take my place. I wouldn’t call that walking away,” Howe said. “I’m actually engaged on a weekly basis mentoring a potential candidate.”

BUDGET BASICS

Cameron’s budget proposal calls for 3 percent pay increases for city employees, the same increase Superintendent David Melton proposed for school employees.

In addition to raising the real estate tax rate, Cameron proposes increasing water rates by 7 percent, sewer rates by 9 percent and solid waste fees by $3 on a bi-monthly bill.

City schools are to get a $1.2 million increase in funding, bringing city schools funding to $26.1 million, or 31.6 percent of the city budget.

The city’s general fund budget proposal increases 5.13 percent from the current fiscal year to $82.6 million.

Cameron proposes adding 6.5 new positions, including 3.5 sheriff’s deputies for additional security for the new courthouse. Kelly opposes those positions because the state is not providing any of the funding.

He also opposes adding a purchasing agent position.

The final positions are two medics to help the city toward its goal of round-the-clock coverage by paid advanced life support staff.

Last week, Howe asked Cameron to bring to the council a list of cuts that would be needed to balance the budget with no real estate tax increase. He also tasked the city manager with incorporating items that council members wanted added and subtracted from the proposed budget.

Cameron said Friday that he expected to have that list ready for council members today Monday.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972

pgould@freelancestar.com

 

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