Supervisors pass $104 million budget on 3-2 vote

Real estate tax set at $0.844, personal property tax at $4.10

By Heather Michon

Months of work and debate came to a close on Wednesday night (April 19) as the Board of Supervisors voted on the final budget and tax rates for Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24), including an additional $2.2 million to the schools for increased pay and an expansion of mental health care services. The average homeowner will see a rise of about 8.9 percent on their annual tax bill.

As in the previous meeting, the evening started with several members of the public stepping forward to urge the supervisor to approve the school’s funding request. 

At least one commenter had somewhat harsh words for those who might be against the funding package. 

In a brief recap before their final discussion, Finance Director Tori Melton told supervisors that the total FY24 budget was $104,199,759. This was an increase of around $5 million, or 5.12 percent, over the amended FY23 budget.

The main drivers behind the increase included $1.6 million to shift the county from contracted services to a county-run Department of Emergency Services, a $1.6 million increase in capital improvements, a $1.2 million increase in county operator costs, and $877,000 in health insurance and cost of living costs for county employees.

During their previous meeting, supervisors tentatively agreed on a real estate tax rate of $0.84 per $100 of assessed value – an increase of $0.065 over the current equalized rate of $0.775. 

They were also looking at increasing the personal property tax on items like cars, motorcycles, RVS, and boats, from $3.70 per $100 to $4.15, a rise of about 12 percent.

As their final discussion got underway, Mike Sheridan (Columbia) raised the possibility of shaving a half-penny off the real estate tax or $0.05 off the personal property tax. Because not everyone owns a house but almost everyone owns a vehicle, “I think we affect more people if we do it on personal property,” he said. 

The final proposed rates were $0.844 for real estate and $4.10 for personal property. County Administrator Eric Dahl said this would put the budget just $13,385 shy of being completely balanced, an amount that could be shifted from the board’s own contingency fund.

This package would fund $2.2 million of the school board’s $2.7 million supplemental request.

“I want to commend the board for getting as close to fully funding the schools as we could,” said Tony O’Brien (Rivanna). He praised both Sheridan and Chair Mozell Booker (Fork Union) – both of whom had dedicated their professional careers to Fluvanna County Public Schools – for their advocacy during the debate. 

It had been clear for some time that the vote was not going to be unanimous.

“I’m not going to vote for this budget,” said Chris Fairchild (Cunningham). 

Fairchild had long argued that what he saw as the excessive amount of money the county approved for the construction of the new high school in 2009 has left many Fluvanna taxpayers unwilling to support additional expenditures on the schools today.  

“We ought to be able to disagree without somebody threatening you,” he added. “Because I’ve been threatened this year on both sides of it – here’s what we’re going to do if you vote for it, here’s what we’re going to do if you don’t vote for it – somebody’s coming to get me.”

After about an hour of discussions, the motion to approve the resolution on the budget and the tax rates was made by Sheridan and seconded by O’Brien. Both men voted for the resolution, with Fairchild voting  against it. 

Supervisor Patricia Eager (Palmyra) paused briefly. “I don’t know what to do,” she said. “But I guess I’ll say no.”

Booker cast the final vote in favor of the motion, which passed 3-2.

In the final round of public comments at the end of the meeting, School Board Chair James Kelley thanked the supervisors “for the incredible length of time and investment into this budget cycle, and I want to thank the majority for passing this budget. We will work hard to spend it on the things that make the most difference to the community and to the Flucos.”

Kelley said he knew this was a difficult issue and he harbored no ill will toward those who voted against the budget. “I hope I was not among those considered to be threatening or divisive during this process,” he said. While “a passionate and vocal citizenry is the health of a democracy,” Kelley added that elected officials should “feel safe and not be threatened.”

He also took the moment to announce that he would be running for re-election on the school board and said even if he failed to secure another four-year, “I’m not going anywhere, and I will continue, as we agree or disagree, to look you in the eyes and respectfully advocate for my positions.”    

Payne to stay on as temporary county attorney

Longtime County Attorney Fred Payne announced earlier this year that he was retiring as of April 30, and that his firm, Payne & Hodous, was stepping away from providing the county legal services. Supervisors earmarked around $100,000 in the FY24 budget to hire an in-house county attorney and staff.

But with April 30 on the horizon and a new county attorney not yet in place, supervisors agreed to keep Payne on as a temporary hire at a rate of $3,000 per month. Deputy county attorneys Donna DeLoria, Kristina Hoffmann and Jeremy Boggs will also provide services as needed at hourly rates ranging from $215 to $328 per hour.

The contracts will expire on June 30.  

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