Recovery

Virginia County's Proposed Budget Includes More Money for Schools, Public Safety

The additional positions in the budget proposal include five deputies and 12 firefighters, part of the county’s effort to limit response times to 8 minutes or less for most emergency calls.

by Jeff Branscome, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va. / March 7, 2018

(TNS) - Stafford County’s real estate tax rate would drop from 99 cents to 96.5 cents per $100 of taxable value under the county administrator’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

But residents should not expect lower tax bills in light of the 2018 reassessment, which increased the average home value from $279,000 to $301,300. The average tax bill would be $2,907 under the proposed rate, or $145 more than last year.

County Administrator Tom Foley unveiled his recommended $301.1 million budget in a presentation Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors. It represents a 4.6 percent increase over the current spending plan, with more money for schools, additional deputies and firefighters, and a 2 percent pay raise for all county government employees.

Foley said he crafted the budget with the county’s steady growth in mind, both in the overall population and public school enrollment.

“Addressing growth is what we feel like we have to do,” said Foley, adding that Stafford is the fifth fastest-growing locality in Virginia. “This budget makes some strides, but it doesn’t get us all the way there.”

The Board of Supervisors was scheduled to adopt a ceiling for next fiscal year’s real estate tax rate, but deferred that decision by a 6–1 vote. Supervisor Cindy Shelton, who cast the dissenting vote, suggested advertising the current 99-cent rate, saying they could always reduce it after a public hearing.

Supervisor Wendy Maurer said she thinks county officials need more time to debate the advertised rate, which can only be lowered when supervisors set tax rates next month. “I’m not saying that I am going to vote for an increase in the tax rate, but I think … we need to consider opening up that conversation to the community,” Maurer said.

The budget proposal maintains the current car tax rate of $6.46 per $100 of assessed value.

Public hearings on the budget and tax rates have been scheduled for April 3, though supervisors may push back that date.

Foley’s budget includes $151.4 million for schools, a $3.7 million increase over the current fiscal year. Still, that amount is about $9 million shy of the School Board’s request, which includes money for pay increases and dozens of additional positions.

“It’s fairly far short because of some of the other demands of this budget,” Foley said. The School Board and supervisors will hold a joint meeting March 20.

Foley is also proposing a $1.2 million increase in county tax dollars for a state-mandated program that places some students with special needs into private schools. The county expects to put 93 students with disabilities in private schools next year at an average annual cost of $72,000 per student.

Foley’s proposed contribution to schools does include $285,000 to expand Stafford’s “public day school” for students with disabilities, with the hope of decreasing the more expensive private-school placements.

The additional positions in Foley’s budget proposal include five deputies and 12 firefighters, part of the county’s effort to limit response times to 8 minutes or less for most emergency calls. The spending plan also includes six additional social services employees, one Finance Department employee, one information technology worker, and two full-time Department of Economic Development positions.

The number of proposed social services employees would drop from six to four if the General Assembly does not expand Medicaid, a health insurance program for low-income Virginians. The federal government would pay 85 percent toward the cost of the Medicaid-related positions, Foley said.

On top of the across-the-board 2 percent pay raise, Foley’s budget earmarks $625,000 for raises to select employees whose salaries fall below the market rate. That includes employees with the Department of Social Services and 911 dispatchers.

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©2018 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)

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