Supervisors mull over tax rate

By Heather Michon

The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors voted to advertise a proposed residential real estate tax rate of $0.865 at their budget work session on Wednesday night (Feb. 22).

By law, the county has to publish a maximum advertised rate at least 30 days before a public hearing on the budget. County Administrator Eric Dahl reminded supervisors that “we can always pull back from there, but we can’t go over.”

Supervisors set the residential real estate tax rate at $0.87 when the FY23 budget was approved in April 2022. After reassessing home values in late 2022, the tax rate was lowered, or “equalized,” to $0.77, allowing the county to collect the same amount of tax revenue projected in the FY23 budget without substantially raising residents’ tax bills. 

In his proposed FY24 budget, Dahl recommended setting the rate at $0.81. This would help fund his proposed $99.8 million budget, including around $1 million needed to set up a new Department of Emergency Services.

However, Fluvanna County Public Schools requested an additional $2.6 million over FY23 levels to help fund critical programs and increases in employee compensation. 

With each one-cent increase in the real estate tax generating $366,000 in revenue, Dahl projected they would need to raise the tax rate to around $0.89 to fund both county and school requests in their entirety.

“I think we could plug in $0.88 and go home tonight,” said Tony O’Brien (Rivanna). “That’s fine by me. I’m alright with that.”

“I don’t think I am,” said Chris Fairchild (Cunningham). 

O’Brien argued that setting the advertised rate at $0.88 didn’t commit them to approve that as the final rate in April, but gave some room to maneuver as they await the final revenue numbers from the state. It also gave the public time to “digest and give us their thoughts on it.”

Fairchild said working families, in particular, don’t always have time to follow the lengthy and complicated process of how the county sets tax rates, and high advertised rates often “ends up unduly alarming  a lot of people.”   

“I think that’s my point: if people are alarmed, they come out and speak about it. If they’re not alarmed, then they don’t,” said O’Brien. 

He said his approach has always been to keep the county competitive. “I’m certainly not interested in paying more taxes by any means, but I think that, at the end of the day, the value of the core services that we provide and the importance of making sure we’re not losing qualified employees to surrounding counties because we’re being penny wise and pound foolish is important.” 

“I know that’s kind of my annual speech,” he added. 

Fairchild said in discussions with stakeholders, he had encouraged them that this was probably not the year to ask for everything on their departmental wish lists. “We’ve got to find some ways to stay away from $0.88.”

After more debate, O’Brien made a motion to advertise a maximum tax rate of $0.885, but failed to find a second. 

“I can’t do it, I can’t second $0.885,” said Sheridan. “I was sitting here thinking $0.865 as a top-end number. I know it’s high. Knock wood, we haven’t ended up there, we’ve been able to find stuff – I won’t say be inventive – but we’ve been able to work hard at it,” and bring the final rate in below the advertised maximum.

“It’s going to make us work a little harder than $0.885, so that’s a good thing,” said Patricia Eager (Palmyra). 

A motion to advertise a rate of $0.865 passed by a vote of 5-0.

Work on the budget will continue for the next several weeks. Supervisors will hold sessions on March 1, March 8, March 15, March 22, and April 5.  

County residents will have an opportunity to weigh in on this proposed tax schedule during a special public hearing on April 12 at 7 pm at the Carysbrook Performing Arts Center. 

The final vote on the FY24 budget is currently scheduled for April 19 at 7 p.m.

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