In what has been a relatively uneventful budget process compared to the fireworks of last year, the Board of Supervisors has agreed to adopt a $156 million General Fund budget for FY 2014; an increase of about 1.5% over FY 2013.
In the process they also agreed to raise the real estate tax by $0.01 per hundred of assessed value, a raise that will cost homeowners $10 per $100,000 of assessed value, or about $35 for the average Fauquier County homeowner whose property is valued at $313,000.
As County Administrator Paul McCulla pointed out, this rate increase was essentially required to fund the 22 additional firefighters that the Supervisors had already authorized, and the county is in the process of hiring.
The first time taxpayers will see this increase is in the June property tax bills.
Supervisor Granger had proposed a $0.015 increase, the additional half cent going to a 1.5% Cost of Living Increase for county employees. Although Mr. Granger’s proposal did not win out, the Board did allocate $197,000 to help cover employee’s health care costs which have gone up significantly in the last year.
Supervisors Granger and Sherbeyn also brought the county’s deferment of certain property taxes into the discussion. The county defers taxes on land use types such as agricultural and forest lands to the tune of about $18 million per year.
Supervisor Sherbeyn contends that this is just too much, and I agree. I applaud Supervisors Sherbeyn and Granger for at least bringing this up for debate.
Opposition to eliminating these deferments have long been championed by “No Growth” Supervisors which contend that undeveloped land costs the county less than developed land, but these arguments are only true if developments are limited to houses.
Housing developments demand increased expenditures in services such as public safety, schools, and public utilities which are never covered by property taxes unless exorbitant rates are imposed. Business development on the other hand can be a net plus to county revenues instead of a drain.
Speaking of business development, Supervisors Sherbeyn and Trumbo echoed an opinion expressed by many citizens.
The county needs to spend more on services (sewer and water) so that we can attract new businesses, which will in turn increase county revenues, and thus shift the tax burden away from property owners. Without new business revenues, citizens of Fauquier will undoubtedly be treated to frequent tax increases as costs continue to rise on things like employee healthcare.
Some other items that the board approved are additional Sheriff’s deputies to allow for an officer presence in each of the county middle schools as well as the high schools.
The Board also agreed to an increase of $1.5 million in the school budget. This is $3.5 million less than Dr. Mitchell, the acting Superintendent asked for, and the School Board will now have two work sessions on April 8th and 15th to trim their budget.
From my observations, there has not been anywhere near the level of interest and participation in this year’s budget process as there was last year.
Last year’s budget negotiations became quite contentious at this point after the BoS flat funded schools, and then took quite a beating at the final public hearing which was packed with teachers, students, and parents advocating full funding of the school budget.
This year the BoS agreed on a modest increase, but it will certainly not cover all the items Dr. Mitchell says are needed.
It remains to be seen what will occur this year since there was an advertising problem which prompted the BoS to hold a second, previously unscheduled public hearing on April 4th.
It is important to note that the budget as agreed upon is not final until the Board votes on 11 April.
It is also important to note that the day after the BoS agreed on the final budget, the School Board approved their budget which includes the entire $5.1 million increase. The School Board plans to adopt their final budget on April 22nd, so they now have less than a month to whittle this down to the BoS figure.
Last year Superintendent Lewis and the School Board advocated salary increases at the expense of many popular school programs, and the debate over these decisions continues to this day. Will we see the same thing happen again this year?
The public hearing scheduled for 4 April at 7pm in the Warren Green Building, 10 Hotel Street in Warrenton affords citizens a final opportunity to have their voices heard before the Board votes to officially adopt the budget at their 11 April monthly meeting.