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Stafford supervisors zero three taxes, pass $253M budget

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Stafford County supervisors adopted a $253 million budget Tuesday night, after cutting three of the county’s smaller tax rates, funding the school system in categories, and setting up a “clever” scenario to waive the former car decal fees next spring. 

The budget was passed unanimously and goes into effect July 1.

After a push from marina owners and boat enthusiasts, the boat tax was essentially zeroed, along with the machinery and tools tax, and motor carrier tax, which are tied together under state code. Combined, the three had brought in about $750,000 in revenue.

Approving a $109.5 million local operating transfer, the board also voted unanimously to allocate the school budget via categorical funding, after a one-year hiatus. Supervisors voiced support to renew a plan to look at sharing resources between the school and county offices.

Contingent on at least a $2.4 million surplus next year—an amount that varies each year based largely on how many people buy new cars and thus pay higher car taxes—Supervisor Bob Thomas proposed waiving the vehicle license fee for 2014. Car owners pay that $23 fee every year, and they used to get a decal for their cars. That’s no longer issued, though the county still collects the fee. This would be a one-time solution, and financial advisers told County Administrator Anthony Romanello on Tuesday that the move was “creative” and “clever,” in the best sense of the words. Surplus funds are typically added to cash capital funds to pay for projects without accruing debts, Thomas said. Waiving the fee is a one-time occurrence, but could be continued.

Supervisor Paul Milde pushed again for a halt on the rebuild of Stafford High School in the county’s long-term projects plan, but that resulted in a failed vote. Several speakers asked the board to keep the project on track; bids have already come in, and the school is scheduled to open in 2015.

The adopted budget gives county employees a 1 percent cost-of-living raise in July, and an average 2 percent merit-based raise in April 2014, when health care costs are scheduled to go up.

School employees will also see a bump up in their paychecks. They’ll move up a “step” on the pay scale, which is a 2.5 percent increase with stipends at the top of the scales, and they’ll see a 2 percent raise in January.

During the final budget approval, echoing a comment from School Board Chairwoman Stephanie Johnson, Supervisor Ty Schieber suggested hiring an outside consultant to study how the county and school system can better share resources. That’ll go before the joint schools working committee.

The return to categorical funding for schools comes after a one-year break. Supervisors had done away with the specificity in a show of goodwill to the schools. Amounts are identified under categories like instruction and administration.

A proposal to phase in a new partnership for programs for at-risk youth, via the federal Comprehensive Services Act, was put on hold. Supervisors decided to wait until next year, giving a small committee time to hammer out details for how to best serve the growing numbers of students who are sent to private day schools at high costs.

The Economic Development Authority will receive its funding in a new manner for the next few years, as well. The county identified two office buildings that weren’t being used, assessed at a total of $864,000. Selling them would yield enough money for several years for the EDA, supervisors decided. They also gave a small boost to offset the period until that transfer. The county must hold a public hearing before selling properties.

 

 

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975

kthisdell@freelancestar.com

 

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