Full budget story

The personal property tax rate held steady at $4.15 per $100 valuation.  This increased rate, if adopted, will result in approximately a 7 percent tax increase for the average homeowner.

Even with the tax increase, Nichols explained, many expenditures he supports are not included in the budget.  One example is the pay scale for county staff.  Under Plan A, which is in the budget, all county employees would receive a 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment.  Under Plan B, which Nichols actually prefers, but which is not in the budget, staff would receive typically larger pay increases based upon their years of service and how underpaid they are compared to locally competitive salaries.  The effect of this plan would be not only to provide a higher salary increase, but also to bring county salaries more in line with those of other localities.  “Plan A is treading water,” Nichols said, “Plan B is doing the right thing.”

But budget season is filled with well-meaning goals that don’t necessarily come to fruition, because supervisors and staff work with limited funds.  In this case, Nichols went with Plan A, and when questioned by Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch, explained, “I made lots of cuts in the budget trying to make sure that you could then consider taking on capital projects and other requirements of the county.”

Other “significant” county staff needs that are not included in the budget include an administrative services department and a deputy county administrator.  “We’re getting strapped,” Nichols declared.  “We’ve been doggy paddling for years now.”  He went on to warn supervisors that if they adopt water and sewer plans, they will have no choice but to hire more county workers to oversee those plans.

Much of the tax increase is driven by factors that the county can’t control.  For example, Fluvanna has no wiggle room in the amount it owes to the Central Virginia Regional Jail – an amount that, this year, has increased by $138,000.  Also, facility maintenance requirements are up by $150,000, mostly due to a long, slow pile-up of deferred maintenance.

Always a hot topic, the school budget came up as well.  Last year, the schools received $13.8 million; this year, they requested $15.3 million.  Nichols recommended giving them $14.8 million, a $1 million increase over their budget for last year but $500,000 less than they desired.

If the proposed budget were to fully fund everyone’s requests, the tax rate would have to be set at 93 cents, Nichols noted.  In order to cut what would have been a huge increase, Nichols had to be “tight in every area,” especially because he was conscious of tax-affecting water and sewer plans expected to come down the pike sometime soon.

The Board has the discretion to adopt Nichols’s plan or to set the tax rate higher or lower.  Every penny on the real estate tax rate results in an additional $270,000.  This assumes a 96.5 collection rate; not a full 100 percent of taxes owed to the county are collected.  Every nickel on the personal property tax rate, at a 92.5 collection rate, yields an additional $88,000.

A tax rate of 28 cents is necessary merely to satisfy the county’s debt service, said Finance Director Barbara Horlacher.

In a quest to alleviate the 93-7 ratio, in which the county’s tax burden is paid 93 percent by homeowners and 7 percent by businesses, Nichols suggested that the Board consider alternate revenue sources such as a business, professional, and occupational license (BPOL) tax and other business taxes, or revenue recovery fees for emergency medical services.  “Changing our revenue stream may lead to a more balanced tax base,” Nichols explained.   Such revenue streams are common in many counties, though their implementation in Fluvanna could arguably make the county a less desirable business location, resulting in a revenue loss, not gain.  Supervisors will navigate those tricky waters in upcoming meetings.

Nichols also presented his proposed capital improvements plan (CIP) for FY15-19.  The CIP for FY15 contained funding for additional Pleasant Grove restrooms, Pleasant Grove athletic field fencing and lighting, county vehicle fleet replacement, extra school bus replacement, and school wireless technology upgrades.  It also included proposed borrowing for Zion Crossroads water and sewer, James River Water Authority water system construction, fire and rescue vehicle replacement, and Fluvanna Middle School HVAC repair.

Supervisors have embarked on a rigorous budget schedule that involves many work sessions filled with budget presentations from regional agencies, nonprofits, constitutional officers, and the schools.  They are expected to decide on an advertised tax rate on Mar. 19.

At the beginning of the meeting, Supervisor Mike Sheridan read the following statement: “Due to the nature of the transaction of the county budget, I declare that I am an employee of the Fluvanna County School System.  I am a member of a large group which is affected by this transaction, the county budget.  As a supervisor of Fluvanna County, I am able to participate in this transaction fairly, objectively, and in the interest of the public.”


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