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Supervisor Michael Hipple (Powhatan) endorsed Thursday five “critical needs” identified by County Administrator Bryan Hill, but he stopped short of saying whether he would support a proposed 11 percent real estate tax increase to pay for them.
The tax rate proposal, which would raise the tax rate by 8.2 cents per $100 of assessed value, would allow Hill to fully fund his five critical needs — infrastructure for storm runoff, school infrastructure costs, economic development research, restarting maintenance on some county property and restoring money to a reserve fund the county has drawn down in recent years.
“It all goes back to quality of life,” Hipple said of the five critical needs to the community members at the meeting. “I’m just like you all are. I don’t want to pay another dollar in taxes. But I’m also a business man, and this is a business. And the business is quality of life. And [quality of life is what these needs would address].”
Hipple and his fellow supervisors are set to hammer out a budget for the upcoming fiscal year — which runs from July 1 through June 2016 — in the coming weeks, with the final adoption set for April 28. The tax rate question, which has dominated budget discussions in the last month, will be settled by adoption of the budget.
But Hipple was reticent about discussing his feelings toward the tax rate proposal, instead focusing his comments on how the board will have to talk about it in the coming days and come to a decision.
The Powhatan supervisor identified fixing the reserve fund spending as the most important of the needs. Hill’s proposal would send $1.5 million to refill the fund, which the county has drawn from in recent years to make up 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.
The county currently has an AAA rating — the highest available — from two of the three bond rating agencies. The county’s financial advisers, Davenport & Company, has said the county’s rating could drop if the county continues to use the reserve fund to stabilize the budget.
“In June or July, we’ll be heading up to New York to discuss [with the bond rating agencies] where we are, and neither [Hill nor I] want to come back without an AAA rating,” Hipple said. “Because if we don’t, it will cost you more, I guarantee it.”
A few citizens at the meeting took issue with the proposed tax increase, with one calling it a “Chicago-style” increase.
“What assurance do we have [that the proposed increase] isn’t the new normal?” the citizen asked.
Hill said the one-time increase would address his needs strategically and position the county to move forward in the coming years and fix problems as they arise.
“If I come back to the board asking for a tax increase in the next 10 years, I won’t be here, because [the board of supervisors] will fire me,” the administrator said.
A few other citizens spoke in support of the increase, saying it was necessary to maintain the quality of life they enjoy as residents of James City County.
Hipple’s community meeting is the fourth in a series being held for each electoral district in James City County. During the Berkeley District meeting, Supervisor Mary Jones came out against a tax rate increase. Supervisors John McGlennon (Roberts) and Jim Kennedy (Powhatan) did not take a position at their meetings, while Supervisor Kevin Onizuk (Jamestown) has not yet held his meeting.
Kennedy and Onizuk did say at a work session Wednesday they would find a way to pay for the largest of the five needs — $3.2 million for school infrastructure. Payment for that could come from either the tax increase, spending cuts elsewhere or a combination of the two.
Onizuk’s meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 23 at the James City County Recreation Center.