Monday, June 17, 2024

Public Comment Speaks Volumes at JCC Board of Supervisors Meeting

(Screenshot of BOS April 9 meeting)

JAMES CITY COUNTY — During the April 9 James City County (JCC) Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting public comment session regarding the proposed fiscal year 2025-2026 county budget and real estate assessment, citizens spoke volumes about their concerns.

FY 2025-2026 County Budget

Sharon McCarthy, Director of Financial and Management Services, began with an overview of the proposed budget which totals $289.3 million that was announced in March.

Highlights of this presentation state that the real estate tax rate will remain the same and include funding investments in county staff retention and compensation in addition to an increase of 4.5% to support Williamsburg-James City County (WJCC) teacher and staff pay raises.

(Screenshot from JCC BOS April 9 meeting)

During the public comment period, many stated the need for budget increases for WJCC School employees to retain and attract employees.

Public safety, including the delay of the Lightfoot Fire Station 6, was another item of interest.

“I would like to ask that the sixth fire station be put back in the CIP because we know that will make a huge impact in the Lightfoot area, particularly in Colonial Heritage subdivision, which probably is the largest 55 and up and a ‘frequent flier’ for our fire and most importantly our EMS,” said Lisa Ownby.

Another challenged the board to consider some advice received from his father, “Do you need, or it is it just something you would like to have?” adding, “When you go into that room, later on this month, you represent me. You are MY representatives. And I would ask you every item — is it a like to have or is it we need — there are a lot of needs coming in the county in the coming years.”

“The argument that other jurisdictions pay more doesn’t fly with me. It shouldn’t fly with you! Are other jurisdictions soaking their taxpayers or are they being fiscally responsible like James City County has always been?” he continued, receiving a round of applause despite the audience being asked by BOS Chair Ruth Larson to not clap.

Following the applause, a Ford’s Colony resident stated, “I ask you one question — What cost reductions have you implemented across your departments? Not what have you tried to do. Not anything other than what have you achieved? I hope you consider the vehement objection to the proposed budget and do take action to return, at a minimum, to the previous budget.”

“One last request, I would ask that without me having to figure out you put some information on your website, my website, our website, on how to get inside the intricacies of your complex budgeting process because quite frankly had I not taken my issue to the assessment office I wouldn’t have known about this meeting,” adding, “Thanks for nothing!”

During the meeting, Larson stated meetings are published in advance on the JCC webpage.

The proposed budget can be reviewed here.

Real Estate Assessment

McCarthy presented the overview for real property tax increase information before public comment was opened.

(Screenshot from BOS April 9 meeting)

Opening the session to a public hearing regarding the proposed real estate tax, citizens expressed displeasure with the tax increase due to the recently updated tax assessments.

“It appears to the citizens, the taxpayers, the homeowners, that there has been sheer incompetence in the county in the ability to keep up with proper assessments.” stated a speaker who continued, “Now the county is blaming their failures on the citizen, the taxpayer, and it shows up as a disgusting use of power!”

A woman who told the auditorium she was an 81-year-old who still works to pay expenses, asked, “I would like to know, where do you think that 39.7% is coming from?” She continued, by stating, “It feels like you want us to sell our homes.”

“We the people have had a belly full!” exclaimed one citizen.

“On the one side of the coin, you have people saying we need more money for schools, we need more money for firehouses, we need more money for safety. Those are valid requests,” said another who was also against the tax proposal. “On the other hand, you heard from an elderly man with medical needs, you heard from the lady before me [that shows] there is a large segment of your population, of your citizens, who pay your salaries who are on fixed incomes. How do you expect us to survive?”

During the board requests and directive period, at the end of the meeting, several board members acknowledged the frustration that was communicated and thanked staff for the work done on the budget.

Real estate assessment information can be viewed here.

JCC will host two additional community meetings that are open to the public — April 10 at 6 p.m. at Hornsby Middle School and April 11 at 4 p.m. at the James City County Government Center.

The budget is scheduled for adoption at the BOS May 14 meeting.

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