By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer
In her final meeting as Greene County Interim County Administrator, Brenda Garton presented the proposed budget at the April 23rd Board of Supervisors public hearing. The budget which includes a property tax rate increase $.82/$100 from the current $.775/$100. This is a 5.8% increase in the tax rate. Virginia State Code requires at least seven days between the public hearing on the budget and the adoption of the budget. There is no such “resting period” for the tax rate.
Garton stepped through the process to arrive at the proposed tax rate. The first issue that she explained is that the tax revenue is coming in below budget by $683,000 or approximately $.03/$100 impact to the tax rate. This issue alone makes up over half of the proposed increase in the tax rate.
She then went on to explain that the requests for new employees submitted would have increased wages by over $800,000 or the equivalent of $.04/$100 to the tax rate. In order to minimize the impact to the increase in the tax rate, all increased personnel were eliminated except for one mandated by law for the Commonwealth Attorney’s office.
Another source of FY20 revenue comes from the unspent capital that the school system has accumulated. This fund has approximately $4.5 million and the next three years will have $1.5 million to contribute to the revenue of the county. In the past several years, supervisors have allowed the schools to accumulate unspent capital funds so that they would be available for future use.
When Garton first submitted her proposed budget to the Supervisors on March 14th several positions were added back including a deputy and taking an animal control position from half time to full time.
After the staff presentation, the hearing was opened to public comment. Former Supervisor Davis Lamb expressed concern about only one deputy being added to the budget. He explained he has studied many neighboring communities and found that the average per 10,000 people is 22.5 policemen. With Greene County’s nearly 20,000 population that would calculate to 44 policemen vs. the 27 that are currently employed – a shortage of 17 officers. Sheriff Steve Smith FY20 budget request included an addition of 5 officers.
James Murphy, who has announced his candidacy for the At-Large Board of Supervisors seat, called the budget a “dumpster fire” and asked the supervisors to put out the fire or he hoped that the voters will vote for those that will put out the fire at the election on November 5th.
With the public comment closed, the supervisors went into discussion. Supervisor David Cox (Monroe) expressed concern over the size of the increase and would have preferred to have had gradual increases over the last several years.
Chairman Bill Martin (Stanardsville) stated that there are hard choices that had to be made this budget cycle. Specifically, the costs of the water impoundment and the school projects are the main drivers of the increase in the tax rate. Martin clarified that the supervisors worked with Smith and agree that more Sheriff staffing is needed in the future.
With no major changes to the budget being discussed it was agreed to have a vote on the budget at the May 14th meeting. The meeting then moved to the public hearing to set the tax rates.
Two comments from the public focused on taking out things wanted but not needed to lower the increase to the tax rate and a fear that increasing taxes will force homeowners out of their homes.
Several of the supervisors complimented Ms. Garton about the amount of data provided vs. prior years and the format that made comparisons to prior years. Supervisor Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) asked to confirm that the balancing tax rate was $.82/$100 not the advertised rate of $.84/$100. The supervisors then voted 5-0 to adopt the $.82/$100 tax rate. The budget will be on the agenda at the May 14th meeting for final approval.
This meeting was the last meeting for Interim County Administrator Brenda Garton. She was thanked by all of the supervisors and presented with a framed photograph of Davis Lamb’s farm with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background.
Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you. To support this important work please donate online at http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org