Onizuk: JCC Tax Increase Likely, but Probably Less Than 11 Percent

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Supervisor Kevin Onizuk (Jamestown) addresses a group of citizens at a community meeting Thursday. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)
Supervisor Kevin Onizuk (Jamestown) addresses a group of citizens at a community meeting Thursday. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)

Supervisor Kevin Onizuk (Jamestown) said Thursday that if he had to guess, the board will vote to raise real estate taxes but the increase will fall short of the proposed 11 percent boost sought by County Administrator Bryan Hill.

Hill has proposed a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that raises the real estate tax rate by 11 percent to pay for five areas of critical need, including stormwater, stabilizing a debt fund, school infrastructure costs, county infrastructure costs and a study on the county’s transportation needs.

The James City County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to adopt the budget Tuesday.

Onizuk used his opening remarks during the meeting to talk about the difficulties facing both citizens and the county government in recent years as the recession has diminished property values. Those values are important for the county because they are used to determine tax bills: Hill’s proposal seeks to raise the real estate tax rate increase by 8.2 cents per $100 of assessed value.

“We wiped out our 401K, we wiped out everything we could,” Onizuk told the approximately 100 citizens of his private life during the recession. “We’re not on Easy Street yet, but we’re putting what we can back in. Hopefully we will never have another fiscal crisis like that, but if we do, we have started to re-establish our savings. We see the same thing for the county.”

Onizuk said the proposed increase would restore the county’s revenue to where it was in 2009, noting the diminishing of property values has cost the county since then.

He spoke in support of Hill’s proposal to allocate $1.5 million of the $9,020,000 proposed increase toward stabilizing a debt reserve fund. Recent county budgets have drawn from that fund, diminishing its overall level.

The county’s financial advisers, Davenport & Company, have warned that continued use of that money to fund the county’s operations could damage the county’s bond rating, which would make borrowing for infrastructure projects in the future more expensive.

A tax increase appears likely when the supervisors go to vote on the matter Tuesday. Remarks from Supervisors Jim Kennedy (Stonehouse) and John McGlennon (Roberts) at a budget work session Wednesday indicate they will probably support an increase, while Supervisor Michael Hipple (Powhatan) said the county needs an increased rate.

Supervisor Mary Jones (Berkeley) is the only supervisor to have come out steadfastly against an increase.

Prior to saying he would guess the increase will fall between the current rate of 77 cents and the proposed rate of 85.2 cents, Onizuk said he is still thinking about how he will vote on the proposal.

Most citizens who expressed an opinion about the increase Thursday said they supported it. Some urged Onizuk to look for savings in the budget so the tax rate does not have to climb, while a few others wondered if the increase should be less than 11 percent. If Hill’s full proposal is approved, it will raise the annual tax bill for the owner of a $300,000 home by about $240.

Onizuk said he is considering a proposal brought forward by citizens Jay Everson and Chris Henderson. That proposal would make cuts to several areas of spending including schools and county staff while avoiding a tax rate increase.

The supervisors will next meet Tuesday for a 4 p.m. work session, where Hill is supposed to present a budget proposal that seeks an increase of less than 10 percent. Kennedy requested Wednesday that Hill craft such a proposal.

The supervisors are then scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday for a regular meeting, where they are set to vote on a budget. If they approve a budget, it will set the tax rate and spending allocations for fiscal year 2016, which runs from July 1 through June 2016.

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