Supervisors advertise 94.9-cent tax rate

By Heather Michon, correspondent

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday night (Feb. 27) to advertise a maximum real estate tax rate of 94.9 cents per $100.

At the Feb. 6 meeting, County Administrator Steve Nichols proposed a rate of 92.3 cents per $100 for fiscal year 2020 (FY20), which starts July 1. The current equalized rate is 89.3 cents.

Under state law, supervisors must advertise a maximum tax rate ahead of a potential increase, although they can set the tax rate below the maximum.

“As in all years, we recommend strongly that you not use a number that’s too small, because otherwise you have to start the clock all over again,” Nichols said. “Set a number higher than you expect to end up with to cushion in case something changes between now and the day you adopt the budget.”

He encouraged them to look at setting the maximum “no lower than 94.5 or 94.9” to give themselves some flexibility.

After some discussion of outstanding budget issues, the consensus seemed to build for a maximum of 94.9 cents.

Supervisor Tony O’Brien argued that there were priority items in the budget that needed to be addressed. “This is a very tight budget, and we’re just advertising the rate,” he said.

“I’m not going up that high,” Supervisor Don Weaver said.

O’Brien made the motion, which was seconded by Supervisor Mozell Booker.

Weaver voted no.

With Supervisor Trish Eager not in attendance, Chair Mike Sheridan was the deciding vote.

After a long pause, he said, “If that’s the absolute maximum…chair votes aye.”

The information will be published in the Fluvanna Review beginning March 7. It will be several weeks before a final rate is decided.

“This is just the maximum it can be,” Sheridan said. “It is not the tax rate.”

Budget presentations

Supervisors spent the first half of the session listening to budget presentations from the county registrar’s office, social services, cooperative extension, the public library, fire and rescue, and the SPCA.

While the SPCA isn’t technically a department, as Fluvanna’s designated public animal shelter, it does receive financial support from the county.

Putting together the county’s $80 million budget is, in some ways, not unlike deciding on a household budget. Can that vehicle last another year? Does that roof really need to be replaced? Will spending some money now end up saving more money in the future?

Social Services Director Kim Mabe asked for support in hiring a full-time family services specialist to focus on her department’s growing caseload of foster children.

In 2015, the county had just five children in foster placements. Currently, they have 20 children in care.

“We are in desperate need of foster homes,” she said.

Because of the shortage of local homes, half of Fluvanna’s foster children are placed outside the county, which causes more stress for the kids by removing them from familiar surroundings and increases the workload for her small staff.

The state requires caseworkers to check on their foster placements on a regular basis. Between the increase in the number of cases they have to handle and the distances they have to cover to make distant home visits, Mabe said her staff is overworked and at risk of burnout.

An experienced specialist could spearhead the recruitment of foster families in Fluvanna, as well as training and monitoring.

The new position would cost about $57,000 for pay and benefits, but with federal matching funds, the county would have to come up with around $38,000.

Since using outside placement agencies can cost between $23,000 and $47,000 per child, a foster care coordinator could end up saving money over time by reducing dependence on out-of-county homes.

The funding of that position, along with dozens of other requests and recommendations, will be decided on by the board in the coming weeks. The final vote on the FY20 budget is scheduled for April 17.

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