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Supervisors OK Stafford budget

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The Stafford County Board of Supervisors passed a $262 million operating budget Monday that seeks to keep the tax burden level and also increase funding for schools.

The board adopted a lower real estate tax rate of $1.019 per $100 of assessed value in response to a reassessment this year that resulted in higher property values. Last year, the real estate tax rate was $1.07 per $100 of assessed value. The average Stafford homeowner will pay about $74 more in real estate taxes this year.

In order to keep the total amount that residents pay in real estate and property tax the same, the board reduced the personal property tax from $6.89 to $6.61.

A tied vote on the stormwater district forced the board to kick a proposed half-cent stormwater tax down the road. The half-cent tax would allow the county to comply with a state mandate aiming to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

The stormwater tax was meant to go toward operations, public outreach, construction of new facilities and the rehabilitation of streams, Stafford Public Works Director Michael Smith has said.

The mandate would cost $42 million over the next 15 years. A 3–3 vote, with Supervisor Paul Milde absent, caused the vote on the stormwater district to fail. Supervisors will take up the matter at the next meeting.

Supervisors Laura Sellers and Gary Snellings were the most vocal supporters of the stormwater tax. “I think it is about time it is set up. I think it will create more long-term problems,” Sellers said.

Snellings said that the mandate would require the money to come from some other fund if it didn’t come from tax revenue. The tax was expected to generate $700,000 annually, which would still fall short of the $42 million mandate cost.

Supervisor Cord Sterling worried that the stormwater-related fund would not have enough oversight and would complicate the county’s tax code.

“The more I think about it, the less good I feel about it. It’s not our highest priority item, but it is a mandate,” Chairman Jack Cavalier said. He added that there are public safety and education mandates, but none of them have a tax associated with them.

Supervisors did decide to increase park fees for residents, which is expected to generate $160,000 annually.

The schools will not come away with the $19.6 million increase in funding that they requested, but they will get about $2 million more than what County Administrator Anthony Romanello originally proposed.

Romanello had slated $139.4 million for the schools, which represents a funding increase of $5.2 million. Of that, the local funding increase is $2.9 million.

Supervisors sided with the Finance, Audit and Budget Committee’s recommendation and gave an additional $1.9 million above Romanello’s proposal. By cutting proposed positions and making other changes, the committee had found $1.9 million worth of wiggle room, which they recommended should all go to the schools.

The change gave a total of $141.1 million to the schools. The local funding will come in a lump sum that the schools decide how to allocate, rather than categorical funding that supervisors had done in the past.

The School Board had asked supervisors for a $19.6 million increase in local money to help pay for new hires, rising health insurance costs, retirement costs and raises.

The recommendation by the committee to increase funding to the schools came after about 18 people discussed school funding at a previous public hearing on the budget.

The county’s capital improvement program also accelerates the expansion of Colonial Forge, Brooke Point, and Mountain View high schools. The county budget increased local funding for middle school resource officers in anticipation of reduced state grant funds and included more funds for a public day school for students in special education.

The board also went with the committee’s recommendation to not cut $20,000 from Empowerhouse, a nonprofit organization that supports victims of domestic violence. That recommendation came after 10 people spoke against the cuts at the same public hearing.

Romanello will only add one of the six county staff additions that he proposed in his budget. Supervisors decided to add only a building inspector. Romanello had asked for five positions in planning and Public Works and Parks and Recreation, all of which would be paid for by user fees. A sixth position as a best-practices officer would have been funded by itself as the employee found savings to pay for the position.

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975

vremmers@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.
  • No raises for county employees.

 

 

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