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March 26, 2013

Slight tax hike, no employee raises in Fauquier’s budget

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Despite the support of two supervisors, Fauquier County government employees will get no raise in fiscal 2014.

The five-member board of supervisors agreed on the final details of a $156-million general fund budget Tuesday afternoon.

Fauquier’s real estate tax rate will rise a penny to 98 cents per $100 assessed value.

That will cost the “average” homeowner — with real estate valued at $313,000 — an additional $35 a year.

The supervisors Tuesday agreed to spend an additional $100,000 to ensure each of the county’s five middle schools has a full-time sheriff’s deputy. That will require adding 1-1/2 positions, bringing the county total to eight, with an officer in each high school and each middle school.

The board also allocated $197,000 to cover employees’ costs of rising health insurance premiums.

“If we’re not giving a raise, we can cover the health insurance increase; at least that’s something,” Supervisor Chester Stribling (Lee District) said.

Mr. Stribling supported Center District Supervisor Chris Granger’s proposal to raise the real estate tax rate another half-cent to increase salaries.

That tax hike would have generated the $600,000 needed to provide a 1.5-percent cost of living raise.

County government’s 613 full-time and 58 part-time workers have gone without cost of living raises since July 2008. The supervisors this fiscal year funded $1,000-per-employee raises, the first since the Great Recession started in 2007.

“I’m not a tax and spend person, but I don’t see how we can get around it,” Mr. Stribling said Tuesday, expressing his support for the slightly higher tax increase. “The cost of living is up more than one and a half percent.”

Lee Sherbeyn (Cedar Run District) said: “I’ve thought about it . . . . If they own a house, we’re gonna take it right back in taxes . . . . There are so many people out there who haven’t had raises, don’t have jobs.

“I don’t think we can ask homeowners to carry it,” Mr. Sherbeyn added. “We’ve got taxes out there. There’s just too much deferred.”

He and Mr. Granger had broached the topic of cutting the county’s liberal application of land-use value taxation. Fauquier “defers” almost $18 million annually in taxes on land categorized as agricultural, horticultural, forest and/or open space.

But, that would represent a radical change in Fauquier, where supervisors for decades have agreed that undeveloped land costs less in public services than it pays in taxes.

Peter Schwartz (Marshall District) and Holder Trumbo (Scott District) also remained steadfast in their positions that the board shouldn’t raise taxes to provide raises.

“It’s not that county employees don’t deserve it,” Mr. Trumbo said. “But, the people I’m talking to are worried about paying more in taxes to Richmond and Washington.”

He said the board last year essentially committed to a 1-cent tax hike in fiscal 2014 to pay for 22 new firefighter/medics.

“Folks out there don’t have new income,” Mr. Trumbo added. “Day in and day out, the people that I hear from aren’t doing better” economically.

Meanwhile, the school board has yet to begin cutting $3.5 million from Interim Superintendent Sandra Mitchell’s recommended budget.

Dr. Mitchell called for about $5 million in new county funding. The supervisors have settled on a $1.5 million increase.

Last year, the school board cut about 36 positions and support for some programs — including middle school sports — to fund 2-1/2-percent raises.

A similar scenario seems possible for fiscal 2014, which starts July 1.

Gov. Bob McDonnell’s state budget would fund about one-quarter of the cost, if the school board commits to 2-percent raises. But, Fauquier schools still would need to come up with about $1.5 million to provide those salary increases.

Additionally, the school system faces significant health insurance rate increases, aging technology and the need for new buses.

The school board will cut the proposed budget in work sessions April 8 and 15. It plans to adopt the school budget April 22.

Because of public notice advertising problems, the supervisors will conduct a second budget public hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 4, in the Warren Green Building.

The board of supervisors will adopt the budget — including schools — at its regular monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 11.
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Allie · March 26, 2013 at 5:22 pm
WOW. This makes me sad. Does the BOS have a clue how much all of this is hurting the education system of this county? It worries me more and more having to send my kids to public school in this county. The quality just keeps going down more and more. I know the economy is bad but how is under-educating and providing less opportunities for students (by virtue of not adequately funding the schools) help prepare students for the real world? You can't get a decent job if you do not have a good education. When jobs are tight that education counts even more.
Remember, you can pay for these kids now or you can pay for them at three times the rate when they end up in jail in the future.
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