By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer
On Tuesday night, April 23rd, the Greene County Board of Supervisors heard from only 12 speakers, a fraction of citizens that they heard from a year ago (over 90 speakers), in the public hearing on the property tax rate. With property assessments declining 6.99%, a tax rate increase of $.03/$100 would be required to roughly equalize tax revenue – this is the rate that was published in advance. Chairman Jim Frydl clarified that the meeting was only to take action on the tax rate and that setting the budget will be at the May 14th meeting.
The comments from the public overwhelmingly supported the increase to generate level funding. Andrea Whitmarsh, current assistant superintendent who has been named to be the new superintendent, thanked the BOS for public funding for the schools. She vowed to continue to strive for improved cost control in the school system. She announced to the BOS that after the School Board submitted their budget they have learned that health insurance costs will be reduced by $150,000. These funds will be used to reinstate some of the cuts announced to offset reduced state and federal funding (of over $700,000).
School Board Chairperson, Michelle Flynn, thanked the BOS in advance for level funding and for their time spent coming to the schools – all five have attended some event in the school system. She also echoed the Stanardsville Fire Department who earlier commented on the private fundraising that they do to help fund the schools.
Several citizens did express concern over a tax rate increase and that once a levy is raised it is hard to lower it and that seniors have a hard time making their tax payments. One citizen asked that the county do a zero based budget. He was willing to go along with an increase of $.015/$100 instead of the $.03/$100 proposed. His fear was that increased taxes would deter new businesses from locating in Greene County.
Several of the citizens spoke in favor of the equalized rate and made the comment that this is not raising taxes, but merely to balance out the decline in assessed property valued to generate the same tax revenue – the bill will be the same amount. One citizen encouraged the BOS to equalize taxes to ensure that the quality of life is maintained in Greene County to attract businesses to the county.
The meeting then turned to a discussion among the supervisors. Supervisor Davis Lamb referred to a study he found on line that indicated that in the past decade funding for schools has increased faster than enrollment. He indicated he was not in favor of increasing the property tax rate as Social Security COLA is increasing only 1.4% and Medicare Part B has a 9.3% increase. Supervisor Buggs Peyton also did not support the tax rate increase since the schools received their largest increase ever last year. He expressed concern over the funding the past two years of athletic facilities instead of academics. He also expressed concern that it is time to stop bullying and intimidation and promote collaboration within the schools. Lastly, he indicated that to meet all the needs of Greene County the tax rate would need to be at $.85/$100.
Supervisor Eddie Deane, the supervisor who proposed the $.72/$100 tax rate, believes that the increase will help avoid a larger increase in the future. He appreciates the transparency with the school system. When a more detailed budget by line item was requested, it was presented the next day. He does not want more people in the schools to lose their jobs. He also suggested that the county look into citizens being able to pay more than their tax bill and identify what function it should be assigned to.
Supervisor David Cox appreciated the comments from the public and applauded them for being respectful this evening. And also he complimented the School Board for being open during the school year. He also supported the $.72/$100 tax rate to help offset problems down the road.
Chairman Jim Frydl was last to speak and he also thanked the audience for attending. He also stated that the county has underspent by $979,000 to date. He agreed with Supervisors Dean and Cox that the alternative to raising the tax rate is to put our head in the sand. He indicated that the School System is not asking for increased funding, but for level funding. With that being said, they are already having to eliminate 22.5 positions due to reduced state and federal funding. He supports the $.72/$100 equalized tax rate which would charge residents the same amount as last year.
Supervisor Lamb said that some of the positions being eliminated are due to people leaving the school system. Supervisor Dean indicated that the lack of sale of EDU’s has caused the county to bear the full cost of the water and sewer system. Supervisor Frydl agreed stating that any units sold at the $10,000 rate will help offset the $2,000,000 cost which is the worst case.
At that time Chairman Frydl summarized each supervisors position with 3 supporting the $.72 rate and 2 supporting maintaining the $.69 rate. David Cox proposed the motion for the $.72 rate with Eddie Deane seconding the motion. Peyton and Lamb voted no and Frydl, Deane and Cox voted in favor of the equalized rate.
The Free Enterprise Forum commends the citizens of Greene County for their behavior during the meeting, quite a difference from a year ago. The vote to equalize the tax rate will allow Greene County to replenish their Reserve Fund which has proven to allow the county to address major financial issues.
Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.
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