Nichols proposes 3.36 percent tax increase

Suggests tax rate of 92.3 cents

By Christina Dimeo, editor

County Administrator Steve Nichols kicked off budget season by proposing a 3.36 percent tax increase.

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors held a work session Wednesday (Feb. 6) evening to hear Nichols present his recommended budget for fiscal year 2020 (FY20), which begins July 1.

Nichols’ budget totals $80.6 million and includes money for a county-wide fire and rescue chief, an assistant county administrator and a public utilities director. It does not include any additional money for the schools. Superintendent Chuck Winkler and the School Board will formally present their budget request Feb. 20.

If supervisors don’t like the tax picture in front of them they will need to make some difficult decisions. “There aren’t any departments that are flush or fat. They have all been tightened down in the last seven years,” Nichols said. “They are lean to the point of: If you want to make a change, you have to make a programming or personnel change to make a substantive dollar difference.”

Nichols proposed a real estate tax rate of 92.3 cents per $100 valuation. The 2018 real estate tax rate was 93.9 cents. Nevertheless, the new rate would raise taxes.

The value of Fluvanna properties increased by an average of 4.7 percent after the most recent reassessment. Homeowners would pay 4.7 percent more in real estate taxes, therefore, if no steps were taken.

State code prevents supervisors from raising taxes through a reassessment. They are free to set the tax rate as they wish, but they must pinpoint a so-called equalized rate so homeowners can make an accurate comparison. The equalized tax rate is 89.3 cents.

Setting the tax rate at 89.3 cents, therefore, would keep the tax bill the same for the average homeowner. Nichols’ suggested rate of 92.3 cents is a 3.36 percent increase.

Nichols’ budget made no change to Fluvanna’s other tax rates: Personal property tax is $4.35 per $100 valuation, business and public utility personal property tax is $2.90, and machinery and tools tax is $1.90.

He suggested supervisors consider changing the way personal property taxes are calculated. Fluvanna’s personal property tax bills are competitive when compared to those of other counties, he said, but to a casual observer comparing only the actual tax rate, it does not appear that way.

Nichols identified several concerns exerting pressure on the budget, including water and sewer needs, E911 system maintenance, aging infrastructure, maintaining competitive salaries and benefits for staff, and Fluvanna’s high existing debt load.

His proposed budget increases county spending by $1.78 million, a 2.2 percent increase from the FY19 amended budget. But, he said, his budget cut almost $4.3 million from the budget requests of various county departments.

Nichols proposed a FY20 capital improvements plan (CIP) totaling $2.9 million. The CIP generally includes big-ticket items like school buses, ambulances, and new roofs for county buildings.

He warned supervisors that his CIP proposal pushed needed items and maintenance into subsequent years. Recent CIPs have also done this.

“The more you defer, the more it ends up costing you later,” Nichols said. He recommended a “sincere, hardcore discussion” on each CIP item.

“There are many items that are important, but not yet critical, that are left out of proposed funding for FY20,” he wrote in his budget proposal. “However, the county cannot continue to defer essential maintenance, equipment and vehicles; before long they will be beyond effective life, potentially compromise safety, or fail at a critical time of use. Debt service financing may be required to maintain adequate and safe service levels for the community.”

Supervisors listened to the presentation and did not make many comments. They will meet weekly to hash out the budget until they reach a decision. A final vote is scheduled for April 17.

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