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James City County Supervisor Jim Kennedy (Stonehouse) asked one question to the dozens of citizens gathered at the Croaker Road library on Monday night for a Stonehouse district community meeting: If taxes don’t go up, where should spending be cut to pay for the county’s expenses?
There were few answers provided by the gathered crowd.
One man suggested heavy cuts to Williamsburg-James City County Schools and to place “toll gates” at the entrances to parks, and a few others suggested cutting funding to the schools to save money. Otherwise the citizens in attendance did not offer any specific places to cut.
The purpose of Monday’s meeting was for Kennedy to gather feedback from citizens about the proposed county budget for the upcoming fiscal year and its proposed tax increase, which would raise the real estate tax rate by 8.2 cents to 85.2 cents per $100 of assessed value. The increase would allow the county to meet five critical needs identified by County Administrator Bryan Hill.
Kennedy did not take a position on the proposed tax increase, though he did spend more than half an hour spelling out the importance of each of Hill’s five priorities — stormwater, economic development, school funding, county appearance and water — along with maintaining the county’s fiscal health.
The proposed tax increase would raise an additional $9,020,000 split among the five priorities, with the $3.2 million for infrastructure costs in WJCC schools representing the largest increase. A few citizens — including a teacher — countered the citizens who suggested cutting the schools, suggesting the county fully fund them.
Instead of offering cuts, the citizens largely spoke in support of some of Hill’s critical needs. Several were supportive of sending $1.5 million to refill a debt reserve fund on the county’s books from which the county has been drawing funds in recent years to makeup for lackluster revenue from taxes. Loss of money from that fund could cause the county’s bond rating to drop, potentially adding millions of dollars to the cost of borrowing money to fund infrastructure projects in the future.
A few citizens also supported funding the $1.88 million of stormwater projects contained in the budget proposal. That money would restart the neighborhood drainage program and set aside funds to pay for some projects in the county that would help deal with runoff from precipitation.
Kennedy said he was willing to look everywhere for cuts in the coming weeks when the supervisors begin formal discussions regarding the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which runs from July 1 through June 2016.
“Do I think there are some savings in the school budget? Sure,” he said. “And in the county budget. But can you get [the three supervisors needed for a majority to vote for cuts]? That’s another story.”
Several citizens used the meeting to express opposition to the county’s purchase of development rights and greenspace programs. Those programs use public funds to pay landowners to not develop their land. About $740,000 currently sits in the county’s PDR fund, and while a few citizens suggested using that money to pay for some of Hill’s issues, Kennedy said that would be a one-time payment for a recurring cost that would not come close to addressing the issues.
At similar community meetings in the past two weeks, Supervisor John McGlennon (Roberts) did not take a stance on the tax increase, while Supervisor Mary Jones (Berkeley) came out against it.
Supervisors Kevin Onizuk (Jamestown) and Michael Hipple (Powhatan) have meetings scheduled in the next two weeks. They are as follows:
- 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.