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The James City County Board of Supervisors is set to pass a budget for the upcoming fiscal year Tuesday, a move that now appears will include a real estate tax rate increase of up to 11 percent.
The supervisors met for a budget work session Wednesday, during which Supervisor Mary Jones (Berkeley) reiterated her opposition to any tax increase, a point she has made throughout the weeks of meetings when the supervisors were discussing County Administrator Bryan Hill’s budget proposal.
His proposal seeks to boost the real estate tax by 8.2 cents per $100 of assessed value to pay for what he has identified as critical needs facing the county.
But in remarks made during Wednesday’s session and in interviews with WYDaily following its conclusion, Supervisors Jim Kennedy (Storehouse) and John McGlennon (Roberts) made it seem likely they would support an increase and Supervisor Michael Hipple (Powhatan) said he knew it is what the county needs.
The trio also said they will wait to make any final decisions until Tuesday, when Hill comes back with another budget proposal requested by Kennedy that features a tax rate increase of less than 10 percent.
“I’ll take a look at everything when it’s finished, but more than likely, yes,” Kennedy said when asked if he would support the increase.
During the work session, Supervisor John McGlennon (Roberts) said the tax rate has declined from 87 cents per $100 of assessed value when he was first elected in 1997 to its current rate of 77 cents. As home assessments have fallen due to the recession, that lower rate has cut into the county’s revenue.
“At some point there is a need to raise revenue when your revenue drops, or else you have to say we’re not going to be that kind of community anymore,” he said. “That’s the choice we’re facing here.”
Kennedy said during the meeting that if the county waits too long to raise its tax and correct some of the issues identified by Hill, home values will drop more and that will end up costing citizens far more than the approximately $240 per year extra the proposed increase would cost the owner of a $300,000 home.
Supervisor Michael Hipple (Powhatan) agreed with Kennedy’s point about dropping home values. He said it is important the board think years into the future about the issues the county faces and how to deal with them.
After the meeting, he said “I’ll let you know Tuesday” when asked if he would support the increase.
“I know it’s what we need, but I still want to listen to citizens,” he said. “It’s like I said in my [Powhatan District community meeting], the county needs to be run like a business.”
Supervisor Kevin Onizuk (Jamestown) did not chime in to the discussion about the tax rate increase during Wednesday’s work session and was not available after the meeting.
During the session, Kennedy asked the other supervisors what they would cut from the budget instead of raising taxes. Nobody offered any specific cuts, though Jones did say there are several areas the county should look in the coming year for savings.
She suggested the county push harder on state legislators to get state agencies like the Virginia Department of Transportation to follow through on its obligations to pick up trash and mow grass in VDOT-owned medians. Hill’s budget proposal includes $75,000 to pay VDOT to carry out that work more often.
She also suggested the county look to get the City of Williamsburg to pay more toward the operations of Williamsburg-James City County Schools when the schools contract between the city and county expires next year.
McGlennon said the county has already reduced its staff by 10 percent and that recent development in the county — especially retail — has not generated enough revenue to offset the county’s expenses. He also said it is important to build up the county’s debt reserve, which has been chipped away in recent years to offset expenses during the recession.
Hill’s proposal includes $1.5 million to help rebuild the debt reserve fund, which the administrator says is key to maintaining the county’s bond ratings. If the ratings are lowered, it could boost interest rates on money borrowed to pay for infrastructure projects.
His proposal raises $9,020,000 of new revenue. Along with the $1.5 million for the debt fund, $3.2 million would go toward infrastructure costs in the schools, $1.88 million for stormwater projects, $2.38 million to improve the county’s appearance and conducted delayed repairs on county-owned infrastructure and $52,000 for a study on the county’s future transpiration needs.
He will now draft a budget proposal that features an increase of less than 10 percent. After the meeting, he said he will look at some of the stormwater projects in his budget plan to see if they can be pushed to another year and at some of the money going to the schools to get the rate increase below 10 percent. He also said he would have the county’s commissioner of the revenue run revenue projections once more.
The administrator will present that budget proposal at a work session at 4 p.m. Tuesday. The board is scheduled to vote on adopting a budget for the upcoming fiscal year at it regular meeting Tuesday, which begins at 6:30 p.m.