Tax vote

In contrast to last year’s unanimous tax vote, supervisors spent budget season divided along ideological lines. Supervisors Trish Eager and Don Weaver consistently spoke for lower taxes, while Supervisors Mozell Booker and Tony O’Brien championed protecting services.

The approved fiscal year 2017 (FY17) budget totals $78,290,683. The budget contains money for a new sheriff’s deputy, an E911 communications officer, a family services specialist for social services, a leap from part time to full time for a convenience center worker, and additional library staffing hours. It also funds a pay plan that will give 2 percent raises to 75 percent of county staff. The other 25 percent will receive larger raises based upon how long they have worked for the county and how far below market value their current salaries fall.

Some supervisors pushed for a capital depreciation fund that would stockpile money for significant capital improvements or replacements for county buildings. Though the fund was technically established, it emerged from budget negotiations without any money in it.

Personal property tax held steady at $4.35 per $100 valuation. The machinery and tools tax also did not change at $2 per $100 valuation.

The schools received a total of $1.1 million above last year’s baseline. Of that total, $300,000 will come from the capital improvements plan (CIP) to be spent on technology. While supervisors allocate money to the schools, they cannot dictate how the School Board chooses to spend the $800,000 in standard funding. So while supervisors occasionally push to fund particular items in the schools’ wish list, ultimately any money granted to the schools comes with no strings attached.

Though she acknowledged this dynamic, Booker urged her fellow supervisors before the vote to fund a new school psychologist. Giving the schools $700,000 in unallocated money, as the unapproved working budget suggested, was only $50,000 above the $650,000 needed to give school staff small raises and hold them harmless for their health insurance increases. “My concern is the [$700,000] doesn’t cover anything under that,” Booker said. “The school desperately needs another psychologist. And they’re not going to get it with $700,000.”

Booker also supported more spending on technology for the schools. “It would be criminal if we don’t do top-notch technology for our kids,” she said.

“We’re lagging significantly in that area,” agreed O’Brien. “Our schools have been essentially strangleholded for the last several years. It’s not going to be any easier next year or the year after that.” Supervisors and staff have said repeatedly that upcoming commitments to bringing water to Zion Crossroads will dominate next year’s budget season.

Supervisors were told that there would be “a big outcry” if they raised taxes, said O’Brien. But public involvement in the budget process hasn’t been present this year. “The outcry isn’t there,” he said.

“I would like to stay at 89.9 [cents],” said Eager. “We’ve spent a lot of money, and we’re also the highest tax rate in the area. I think that we need to slow down and let the other counties catch up so that we can be more competitive.” Eager didn’t point to a specific solution, but said, “We need to just hold up here and let the others catch up so that we can figure something else to do, stop building new buildings that cost more money.”

Weaver agreed. “There’s never enough money to meet all the demands and there’s never any end to it,” he said. “You can go where you want to [on the tax rate] but I’m sure not going to raise the rates for the taxpayers of Fluvanna County. It seems like they have very little representation.”

When O’Brien asked him what he meant, Weaver said, “They have not organized or vocalized.”

“I think a lot of people have given up,” said Eager.

“Well sure they’ve given up,” said Weaver. “That’s the reason you don’t hear anything anymore.”

“That’s a speculation, a very general statement,” said Booker.

Chairman Mike Sheridan expressed support for a rate of 91.4 cents. “I think if we’re there we get everything we’re asking for. We’re not going to get pipe dreams but we’re also not going so high that we’re taking away people’s pockets.”

Eager said that businesses consider a county’s tax rate when deciding where to locate. “If I were a businessman I would look elsewhere,” she said.

O’Brien pointed out that Fluvanna doesn’t have a business, professional, and occupational license (BPOL) tax like several surrounding areas. He pays $5,000 a year for his BPOL tax in Charlottesville, he said, but Fluvanna doesn’t have one.

“I do think the biggest challenge this year is that we aren’t going to have it any easier next year,” said O’Brien.

O’Brien made a motion to adopt a 91.4-cent tax rate, but the vote failed 2-3 (Sheridan and O’Brien supporting).

Booker then made a motion to adopt a 92-cent rate, which would provide funds for a school psychologist if the schools chose. But that vote failed 2-3 (Booker and O’Brien supporting).

“I want to be clear that you are not in favor of a psychologist for the schools,” said O’Brien to Eager, Weaver and Sheridan.

“I don’t think we decide where that money goes. I think they’re getting a million additional dollars. I think a million additional dollars is a fair amount of money,” said Sheridan.

O’Brien then moved to set the tax rate at 91.7 cents. The vote passed 3-2 (Weaver and Eager dissenting). The final vote included the necessary money for a school psychologist.

Supervisors then turned to the CIP. “There’s no good answer to a county that has a lot of aging infrastructure,” said County Administrator Steve Nichols.

“I think it’s necessary what we have there. I’m satisfied with it,” said Weaver.

Supervisors unanimously approved the CIP, which contains money for projects such as creating a drinkable water system for the library and sheriff’s office, upgrading the treasurer’s office building, funding a computer-aided dispatch system for E911, and purchasing a new ambulance and fire truck.

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