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Sunday, May 19, 2024

York County Budget Gets Public Comment, Adoption Scheduled for May 7

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YORK COUNTY — The York County Board of Supervisors heard comments from citizens on the proposed fiscal year 2025-26 operating budget and tax rates at its meeting Tuesday, April 16.

After a brief budget presentation, highlights of the budget include:

  • a 3-cent real estate tax rate cut
  • elimination of the vehicle license fee
  • “sufficient funding to sustain excellence”
  • employee compensation — 4% and $500 (4.83 average)
  • a $2.35 million increase in inter-fund transfers into the school budget
  • an increase in health insurance (12% county, 2% employee)
  • an increase in Virginia Retirement System (VRS) rate (7.34% increase),
  • a $750,000 CIP funding increase
  • and public safety investments.

The overall proposed budget is $266.4 million.

At the meeting, County Administrator Mark Bellamy discussed the public engagement process of the overall budget. Last year, Supervisor Thomas Sheppard Jr. had asked the administrator to get the public more involved in the budget process.

“Our purpose here is to allow residents of the county who are taxpayers to have a voice in what we’re doing,” Bellamy said before presenting the budget to attendees.

In addition to the in-person public comment, the York County Board of Supervisors also took questions via email, voicemail and social media. However, some residents felt that those efforts weren’t enough.

“Unfortunately I feel as if the efforts to increase public engagement have been the equivalent of trying to get us involved, only to sell us a timeshare once you got us engaged,” one speaker said.

Citizens are also concerned about the tax assessment.

“These increases are out of this world. The assessment on my house went up almost $20,000. My other property, which is my great uncle’s property, went up almost $50,000. According to the state code, in order to keep the amount the same, it should go down to .64, not .74,” said another. “.74 is a 15% increase in my taxes and everybody else’s taxes, that’s a violation of the law, it’s a violation of the trust of all the citizens of this county.”

Supervisors responded after the public comment session, where Supervisor Doug Holroyd offered his insights.

“We’ve set a budget at 74 cents, I’ve said repeatedly that it needs to come down another penny. You’ve heard comments tonight about capital improvement and having $750,000 assigned to CIP repayments,” Holroyd explained. “That is traditionally done in the fall once the surplus from the previous fiscal year is identified and known. The County Administrator has the permission of the board to do that.”

“What I like about the fall timing is that fiscal year surplus is generated by both improvements in revenue and reductions in costs. When the county has been effective and been efficient in managing their budget to come through the year with a budget reduction, we take advantage of that and that feels right,” he added. “That’s the county and the taxpayer working together to be able to pay back that CIP. That’s what allows us to build additional buildings and additional parks and everything else that we like in our quality of life.”

The current budget has a line item of $750,000 for capital improvement project repayments. Holroyd would ultimately like to pull that line item out of the budget and find alternative places to cut items out of the budget.

“I continue to feel that we need to make efforts on cutting our costs. You’ve heard it tonight, you’ve heard it in the February meeting at the library session. People are having difficulty with this huge tax increase. The assessment increase, 20% assessment increase for the average homeowner in this county with the average home being about $400,000 in value, that was $28 or $30 per month. There are a lot of people who aren’t at that number and are much higher or their assessments came in much higher and they are suffering. We need to pay attention to that,” Holroyd said.

Supervisor Sheila Noll agreed with much of what Holroyd’s said. She also offered insight into the different programs that provide grants to York County.

“Our employees always look for ways to save money, to be more efficient, and to pay for things that are needed but maybe doesn’t fit quite into the county budget. I would like you to know that in this past year, our employees have saved taxpayers $18,380,73.31,” Noll said. “That’s a combination of all the grants our employees applied for so that they could efficiently provide you with the services that you need and also be able to do the work that they have to do and not cost you any more than they already have.”

Supervisor Wayne Drewry said the county needs to do more to cut the budget.

“I keep hearing that we’re doing so much better than all of the jurisdictions around us, but that’s not the people we answer to. We don’t answer to Williamsburg, James City County, Newport News, or Hampton. We have to answer to the people who are sitting out here, the people that are emailing me, and calling me, and stopping me in the grocery store,” Drewry said.

“People are upset about this budget and I’m upset about the budget. I don’t think we’ve gotten there. Doug and I have continued to push for at least another cent, I’m even looking for 15 to 20 cents out of the property. I’m looking for ways to cut our budget. These people out here who come to our meetings and come to our forums are asking us to do that,” he continued. “I’ve not talked to anybody who has said ‘hey I’m really happy with the numbers’. Nobody has come up to me and patted me on the back and said ‘great job on that budget you guys are doing’, not one person. The people that are coming up to me are not happy with the budget and I don’t think we’ve done enough.”

Drewry and Holroyd asked the remainder of the board to find more line items in the budget that can be cut.

Supervisor Stephen Roane highlighted having options to explore.

“I like having options to work with. One option we’ve worked with so far in this budget is the real estate tax, we dropped that a few cents,” he said. “Another option we’ve worked with was eliminating the car registration fee, that was something I was pushing for last budget so I’m very happy to see that make it in this budget. That gives that archaic fee tax out of our hands. For every vehicle that you have, you won’t see anymore.”

“Another option I want us to explore is an additional reduction in the property tax rate. Not everybody who lives in York County owns property, but pretty much everyone who lives here owns at least one vehicle. That gives us an opportunity to help those people out, as well as everyone else who owns property and a vehicle too,” Roane continued. “We’re going to be working on that from now until May as another adjustment to this budget. I want options. That gives us the ability to affect more people positively, instead of having all of our eggs in one basket.”.

Roane also added the importance of looking at the bigger picture with the budget.

“We need to be very cognizant of the fact that what our decision on May 7 is, how that impacts our financial stability in the future. We cannot make a decision based upon just a single fiscal year. We have got to look at the forecast and say ‘if we do a thing on May 7, how does that affect the years going out,” Roane said.

Adoption for the budget is slated for the May 7 meeting. The meeting can be livestreamed on WYCG-TV or the York County website.

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