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Stafford speakers support schools

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More than 30 concerned Stafford County residents filled the Board of Supervisors’ chambers Tuesday to discuss the proposed real estate tax rate and the creation of a countywide stormwater district.

About 28 people asked the Board of Supervisors to maintain or provide additional funding for nonprofit organizations and schools in the proposed $261 million budget that begins July 1.

Ten of those people talked specifically about Empowerhouse, which would see a $20,000 cut in county funding in the proposed budget.

Empowerhouse is a nonprofit organization that supports the victims of domestic violence.

Jill Barren, a volunteer with the organization, said the nonprofit had to turn away 56 women and children last year. “[Empowerhouse] serves our community unlike any other organization,” Barren said. “Cutting funding to Empowerhouse is not the solution.”

The majority of the remaining speakers discussed fully funding the schools and its programs.

Four students from Brooke Point High School asked the board not to cut the school’s International Baccalaureate program because of the educational challenges it provides students while encouraging them to be well-rounded individuals.

“I am only 17, but I know we can’t keep blocking the progress of our school systems. We can only move forward with them,” said Aubrey Campbell, a Brooke Point student.

On April 1, the School Board asked the supervisors for a $19.6 million increase in local money in order to pay for new hires, rising health insurance costs, retirement costs and raises.

County Administrator Anthony Romanello’s proposed budget recommends giving the schools $5.2 million more than current year funding, a number that includes $2.3 million of state money.

Five people addressed the board in regard to the half-cent tax that would go toward the proposed stormwater district and cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

Stafford County resident Paul Waldowski said the county is in the wrong place at the wrong time. “You don’t need to be the guinea pigs like the UDAs [urban development areas],” Waldowski said.

However, Whalen Marks believes the district and tax will be good for the Rappahannock River. “The lower portion of the Rappahannock has a huge dead zone where a living organism can’t survive,” Marks said.

Stafford and Fredericksburg are among 91 counties and cities in Virginia that operate municipal separate storm sewer systems, known as MS4s. Discharges from those are regulated by the Virginia Stormwater Management Act and the federal Clean Water Act.

After the stormwater tax is collected, it will go toward operations, public outreach, construction of new facilities and the rehabilitation of streams, said Stafford public works Director Michael Smith.

For the stormwater district and other advertised tax rates, the board can approve a lower rate than advertised but cannot increase it without readvertising the rate. The board is tentatively scheduled to vote on the tax rates and budget on April 28 at 7 p.m.

Jessica Koers: 540/374-5444

jkoers@freelancestar.com

BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS

Here are some highlights of the proposed Stafford County budget.

  • A proposed real estate tax of $1.019 per $100 of assessed value, from last year’s rate of $1.07. The average Stafford homeowner would pay about $74 more in real estate taxes.
  • A reduced personal property tax rate from $6.89 to $6.61 in an attempt to keep the total residents pay in real estate and property taxes the same.
  • No new firefighters or sheriff’s deputies.
  • A new dispatch system for public safety and new fire-fighting equipment.
  • $40,000 more to the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board for child and adolescent psychiatry.
  • A half-cent levy on the real estate tax rate to pay for stormwater management costs associated with the Chesapeake Bay Act.
  • No raises for county employees.

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