Tax Increase at Heart of JCC Administrator’s ‘Fiscally Conservative’ Budget Proposal

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James City County Administrator Bryan Hill (center) interacts with two citizens last August. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)
James City County Administrator Bryan Hill (center) interacts with two citizens last August. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)

James City County Administrator Bryan Hill unveiled his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year Wednesday, presenting a document that seeks $12.4 million in additional spending over the current budget powered largely by the county’s first tax increase since 1996.

Hill seeks to raise the real estate tax rate by 8.2 cents to $0.85 cents per $100 of assessed value, which would add about $240 per year to the tax bill of the owner of a $300,000 home.

That increase would raise $9,020,000, which would all be used to fund what the administrator has identified as his five strategic initiatives.

Hill’s Top Priority: The County’s Fiscal Health

Foremost for Hill is addressing an account from which the county draws money to pay for debt associated with infrastructure costs. The amount of money in that account has declined in recent years, a trend that could cause the three bond rating agencies to downgrade the county’s rating — were that to happen, the county would be faced with higher costs for borrowing money to pay for infrastructure projects.

Hill’s proposed $187,750,000 budget includes $1.5 million in new spending to keep that account stable. Hill said that and the rest of his initiatives — schools, stormwater, county appearance and economic development — are the only major changes to last year’s budget.

“This is a fiscally conservative budget,” he said during a budget briefing with the media Wednesday. “Are we going to move forward or stay constant? If we stay constant, there’s no tax increase and I go forward with [current spending levels]. The increase is associated with five strategic initiatives. Now the question is, what do you want to do?”

The supervisors have already started discussions about the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. All of the supervisors except Mary Jones (Berkeley) agreed during a Feb. 21 work session that a tax increase is likely needed for the county. During a board meeting Feb. 24, Supervisor Jim Kennedy (Stonehouse) said a potential tax increase is “not being taken lightly.”

During the Feb. 21 work session, Hill said the county’s revenues have been declining in recent years as real estate assessments have gone down during the recession. He said then that an 8.2-cent increase would restore the county’s revenues to 2009 levels.

In Hill’s budget message, available here, he breaks down how every cent of the tax rate increase would be allocated to each of his five strategic initiatives.

Budget Proposal Allocates $3.2 Million More to Schools

School spending represents the largest source of increased spending in the budget. He seeks an additional $3.2 million for Williamsburg-James City County Schools compared with last year, $1 million of which would be earmarked for 10 new school buses.

The remaining $2.2 million of the increase consists of $1.84 million to refurbish Clara Byrd Baker Elementary School and $360,000 for future roof replacements on school division buildings.

His budget allocates $82,417,697 to school operations, a figure that falls about $610,000 short of the figure the WJCC School Board requested in the budget it approved Monday for the upcoming fiscal year.

The county’s proposed contribution is a 2 percent increase in funding over the $80,801,664 in the current fiscal year budget. Hill said Wednesday he arrived at the 2 percent figure based off the amount of growth in population and tax revenue he has seen in the past year and that he felt it was important to get the school’s infrastructure spending for Clara Byrd Baker and the roof replacements on the books.

He also said he has invited WJCC Superintendent Steve Constantino to appear at an April 15 budget work session to explain his budget proposal to the board of supervisors, which has the ultimate say over the county’s entire budget.

The county’s spending infrastructure plan has identified $21 million of debt for the county’s share of a fourth middle school to be built at the James Blair site. Hill said that figure is a placeholder, as the city and county still need to negotiate how much each will spend on the new school building. Those conversations have not yet started.

The fourth middle school is projected to require $25,798,759 of spending in the upcoming fiscal year between the city and county. A budget proposed for the upcoming fiscal year by Williamsburg City Manager Jack Tuttle has identified $2,584,000 for the new school, leaving a gulf of $2,214,759 between the division’s request and the current proposals from the city and county.

Almost $2 Million Proposed for Stormwater Projects

Hill’s budget proposal includes an additional $1,880,000 to help communities throughout the county address stormwater issues. Stormwater is runoff from precipitation, and unless there is infrastructure like retention ponds and drainage ditches in place, it can cause flooding problems.

The supervisors came out against creating a utility to deal with stormwater problems in the county. Hill’s proposal seeks to use the $1,880,000 to create two-and-a-half jobs in the county’s stormwater division, with the rest of the money allocated to work to fix stormwater problems the county faces due to aging infrastructure.

It would restore the county’s neighborhood drainage program, which was suspended last June. The last iteration of the program used county dollars to conduct repairs and upgrades across the county. Hill’s proposal seeks to bring the program back, with county staff offering technical expertise to developments throughout the county.

Those developments could be eligible for county money to conduct repairs, however that money would only be allocated in matching grants. Each of the communities seeking the grant funds would be required to enter into a public-private partnership with the county prior to any money being disbursed.

“I can’t take public dollars and put it on private property and there is a need here, so I’m trying to fix the private and public [stormwater infrastructure] and make a partnership to fix these things,” Hill said.

Hill also seeks to begin design work on two large stormwater projects, one each in Grove and Toano. The Grove project involves the installation of drainage equipment along Pocahontas Trail near The Woods golf course, while the Toano project involves alleviating land nestled between Richmond Road and the CSX railroad tracks, leaving stormwater no natural place to drain.

County Appearance Money Would Largely Go Toward Repairs

The proposal regarding the county’s appearance outlines an additional $2,388,000 of spending. Of that, $2.2 million goes toward maintenance of existing county infrastructure, which Hill said has been passed over during the planning of budgets in the last few fiscal years. In his plan, he said further delays on the maintenance will result in increases in “expensive repairs or total replacement costs” in the future.

The money would be used to replace the roof of the Williamsburg-James City County Courthouse, video equipment at the James City County Government Complex, a rehabilitation of the James City County Recreation Center, new face masks for firefighters, upgrades to electric and ventilation systems, improvements to other county buildings and upgrades to fueling equipment at Fire Station One.

The remaining $188,000 would be split between $75,000 to pay the Virginia Department of Transportation to mow grass in the medians on county roads 12 times per year instead of the current four and $113,000 to conduct a study into how the county can best use its land and infrastructure and what it will need in the future.

Economic Development Funding Increase Suggested to Fund Road Study

For the economic development strategic initiative, Hill wants $52,000 to conduct a study into the county’s roadways and future transportation needs. He said that is the first step of his plan to begin spending local dollars on road projects. That plan, which he said he hopes to put into effect in July 2017, would allocate $5 million per year for roads under the assumption that VDOT would match that money as part of its Revenue Sharing Program.

The county conducts budget planning in two-year cycles, with the upcoming fiscal year representing the second year of the current cycle. Hill’s proposal makes minor adjustments to spending categories throughout the plan, however outside the five strategic initiatives, the budget is much the same as was planned.

Plan Calls for Pay-For-Performance Employee Compensation Plan

Changes from last year’s plan for this fiscal year includes three new police officer positions in the James City County Police Department and a new use for funds identified to provide a 1 percent compensation increase for employees. He instead wants to use that money to bring back performance-based pay raises, something the county had in place until the recession began.

Those raises would range from 2 to 4 percent for employees who do well on their performance reviews, while those who score poorly would receive no raise. He also seeks to move all salary ranges for new hires up 1 percent to keep the county competitive to people looking for jobs and to adjust salaries for employees who complete requirements to advance along the county’s career ladder.

In addition to redirecting the money set aside for the 1 percent compensation increase, the compensation changes are also funded in part by savings due to “aggressive negotiating of health insurance costs” and savings from turnover. Hill also the proposal’s call for new health insurance plans — which would join the existing plans — that have lower premiums, higher deductibles and a health savings account as another source of money for the new compensation plan.

Water and Sewer Bills to Climb Under JCSA Plan

The proposed budget calls for changes to the James City Service Authority’s billing structure. It institutes a fixed quarterly service charge of $7.22 for water and $5.66 for sewer, a move Hill says is necessary to ensure stable revenue for the utility, which currently depends entirely on usage-based fees. Small tweaks to the water and sewer rate would raise the monthly rate for a typical residential customer who uses about 5,000 gallons of water by $0.95 to $31.30.

What’s Next:

The supervisors will consider the budget proposal during a series of upcoming budget work sessions. A public hearing for the proposal has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 14 at the James City County Government Complex. A full schedule of the board’s budget deliberations is available here.

Hill and the supervisors have also scheduled a series of community meetings to discuss the budget proposal, one for each of the county’s electoral districts. They are as follows:

  • Roberts District, 6:30 p.m., April 2 at the James City County Government Complex
  • Berkeley District, 6:30 p.m. April 9 at the James City County Government Complex
  • Stonehouse District, 6:30 p.m. April 13 at the James City County Library
  • Powhatan District, 6:30 p.m. April 16 at the James City County Recreation Center
  • Jamestown District, 6:30 p.m. April 23 at the James City County Recreation Center

The budget is scheduled for adoption April 28. The full budget proposal is available here.

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