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City Council supports nickel tax hike

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Fredericksburg homeowners appear headed for a 5-cent increase in their real estate tax bills.

The Fredericksburg City Council reached consensus on spending items for the fiscal 2015 budget during a work session on Tuesday.

The key sticking point in the evening’s deliberations was whether to fund additional positions to staff the new courthouse that’s slated to open Aug. 1.

City Manager Bev Cameron did not include any new positions in his budget proposal, which included no real estate tax rate increase.

However, over the past month of budget work sessions, council members have added items they wanted to see funded.

In addition, Sheriff Paul Higgs asked for 5.5 additional deputies and Circuit Court Clerk Jeff Small asked for two additional clerks for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

A key factor in their staffing requests was whether the Circuit Court docket would begin with one or two courtrooms in use.

Small told the council that he wouldn’t need the additional staff if the second courtroom wasn’t used initially. Higgs said he needed at least four positions to handle security at the new courthouse and the juvenile court facility, regardless of whether the second courtroom was used.

However, Higgs said he had no doubt the second courtroom would be used.

After the fourth straw vote, there was majority support for funding four deputies and raising sufficient revenue to fund the two court clerks in case they are needed. If they are not needed, the money will be carried over to the next budget cycle.

Higgs, who attended the work session, said he wouldn’t ask for the 1.5 deputies in fiscal 2015 if he got four.

Councilman Matt Kelly consistently opposed funding any additional positions for the courthouse, protesting the lack of state financial support for the positions. He also preferred to fund a Planning Department position to work toward preservation efforts but failed in that effort.

Councilwoman Bea Paolucci did not support the majority. Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw missed the meeting because of a family matter.

Each penny increase in the real estate tax rate generates $360,000.

Had the council elected not to fund any deputies or court clerks, the tax rate could have been set at 3 cents per $100 of assessed value. That would have funded a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for staff, three new advanced life support positions, replacement of some city vehicles and nearly $1 million in paving projects.

Funding 5.5 full-time equivalent deputies costs $341,305. The two full-time clerks would cost $108,000.

The exact savings of not funding 1.5 of the 5.5 deputies was not clear Tuesday night.

Vice Mayor Brad Ellis said he didn’t support building the new courthouse but once it was built, the city had an obligation to provide the staffing needed to operate it safely.

The current real estate tax rate is 74 cents per $100 of assessed value. The council advertised a rate increase of as much as 80 cents for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

If Tuesday’s deliberations hold, the rate would become 79 cents per $100 of assessed value on July 1.

At that rate, the owner of the median-priced home in the city would pay an additional $120.50 per year.

The median value of a house in the city is $241,000. At the current rate, the tax on that property is $1,783.40.

At the 79-cent rate, the tax would be $1,903.90

The council is expected to adopt its fiscal 2015 budget on May 13.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972

pgould@freelancestar.com

 

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