Supervisor frustrations take center stage at budget vote

Board raises taxes 3.6 percent

By Christina Dimeo, editor

In unexpected displays of passion, four of the five Fluvanna County supervisors delivered impromptu speeches venting their frustrations as the board prepared Wednesday (April 24) to vote on the new budget and tax rates.

The vote to raise taxes to 92.5 cents, up 3.6 percent, barely squeaked by with a 3-2 margin. Supervisors Don Weaver and Tony O’Brien voted against the decision for opposite reasons.

Sheridan: Ask – don’t preach

Before the vote, Chair Mike Sheridan tackled rumors he said were swirling throughout the county that supervisors ignore core services, such as fire and rescue, schools and law enforcement. Actually, Sheridan said, each budget increase will go directly toward a core service.

“There’s a lot of folks out there and they like to talk about half-truths. And they like to do a lot of pointing fingers and chest thumping,” he declared. “Everything we’ve added [to the budget]: Is there anything that you see there that we don’t need? These are the only places we’ve gone up. Every one of them has been a core service to our county, to our people.

“Sometimes it makes me aggravated when people like to talk in half-truths and act like we’re just going out here…taxing and spending, just giving money to anybody and everybody frivolously,” he said. “And we’re not.”

Sheridan pointed out that 30 cents of the 92.5-cent tax rate, or nearly one-third, goes directly to the county’s debt. Fluvanna therefore effectively functions on a tax rate of 62.5 cents, he said.

Brow furrowed, Sheridan finished his speech: “Anybody who’s got questions about where we’re spending our money, ask – don’t preach.”

Booker: School scuffling and scrambling is criminal

The schools need four new buses but are willing to delay buying two so that they can upgrade their server instead. They will buy the remaining two buses at the end of the school year if enough money is left over – a situation those at the meeting described as likely.

“I don’t think that’s fair to the schools,” Supervisor Mozell Booker said with evident frustration. “The last couple of years it’s almost like the superintendent is coming and saying, ‘I promise you I’m going to save this and you’re going to get this back.’ I don’t think he should have to do that.”

“I’d like to finish,” she said after several interruptions.

Last Wednesday supervisors debated whether to place $300,000 into the general fund, which is akin to the county’s savings account, or lower the proposed tax rate increase by a penny. One penny on the tax rate brings in about $309,000.

“Last week I heard the chair of the School Board talk, telling how they – just like we do – go through every penny to make sure that things are in the right place,” Booker said. “I would just rather see the $300,000 go to the schools.”

“The school system is our core service. We need to be looking after our children,” Booker said emphatically. “Technology cannot fall behind. I think it’s criminal they’re scuffling and scrambling to keep up to date with technology.”

Weaver: “Just raise taxes” mentality leads to debt

Weaver expressed frustration that government turns so frequently to raising taxes as a solution.

“I’ve been in private business most of my life, and government certainly doesn’t run the way private business does,” Weaver said. “Private businesses work from the top down; in other words, they know at the beginning of the year approximately how much they’re going to have in sales and all, so they have [the amount] set right to begin with. They work the budget towards that.

“With government, it starts with the bottom and works up, and when it gets to the top – if you need another penny, need another two pennies, just throw it on. I have a problem with that,” he continued. “That’s the reason all of our governments are in such debt. I mean, it’s not just Fluvanna; it’s the state and the federal government.”

O’Brien: Save in advance or pay with debt

“I call hogwash on that. For God’s sakes,” said O’Brien, launching into the longest speech of the evening. “$70 million of our debt is due to a school. At what point in time did you not think you were going to need a new school in this county? And when did you start saving money for that school? Because if you didn’t start saving money for that school then you have no business talking about that debt.”

“How many people buy their houses for cash?” O’Brien asked. “If you didn’t save [for] it then you mortgaged it. And if you mortgaged it then it costs money. And that money goes into the budget. And you have to pay for that. And that’s just a matter of fact… So you can’t sit there and say, ‘Oh my God, look at what’s happened, we’ve spent $70 million doing this.’ This county has spent almost no money investing into its future.”

“It has,” said Weaver.

“No it has not,” O’Brien said three times. “We have just started to spend that money into the future.”

“Oh, we’re starting to spend it now,” Weaver said drily.

“Yeah, we’re spending that money into the future, finally, so that at one point in time you can actually take the burden off the homeowner,” O’Brien said. “We’re not spending it because we’re buying fancy Mercedes for all of our staff.”

Later O’Brien apologized for raising his voice. “I really do appreciate your efforts to try to mitigate the tax rate,” he said to Weaver. “I think you have done a remarkable job of helping all of us understand that pressure. I feel that pressure… But at the end of the day there isn’t one vote that I’ve made to try to make this county better that I feel bad about.”

Budget vote

Sheridan refocused the conversation on passing 2019 tax rates and a fiscal year 2020 (FY20) budget.

Supervisor Trish Eager, the only board member not to deliver a passionate monologue, spoke in favor of setting the tax rate at 92.5 cents, up about 3.6 percent from the equalized rate of 89.3 cents. “We’ve worked really hard on that,” she said.

Only a slim majority of the board agreed, setting the overall budget at $82,838,129 and the tax rate at 92.5 cents by a 3-2 vote (Weaver and O’Brien dissenting).

Booker said she didn’t want to raise taxes higher than 92.5 cents. “School Board, I apologize,” she said. “I’m going to fight a little harder next year.” The budget allocates $17,864,597 to the schools for FY20, up $437,018 from FY19.

“The budget’s too high as far as I’m concerned,” Weaver said briefly.

O’Brien wanted to put more money into the general fund. “We are now working with budgets that are extremely tight, and we are wiping out our capital improvements plan and our general fund budget, and we are eliminating any flexibility that we have,” he said.

The 2019 tax rates are:

  • Real estate: 92.5 cents per $100 valuation;
  • Residential personal property: $4.35 per $100 valuation;
  • Business personal property: $2.90 per $100 valuation; and
  • Machinery and tools: $1.90 per $100 valuation.

Supervisors passed the FY20 capital improvements plan 4-1 (Weaver dissenting) in the amount of $4,266,610. The budget and capital improvements plan are available for viewing on the county’s website at

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