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May 10, 2022

Warrenton council members wary of higher tax bills amid historically high inflation, gas prices

James Jarvis | FauquierNow
Ward 2 Town Council member William Semple during the May 10 work session said he is wary of the impact of increased taxes for town residents and businesses.
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Staff Journalist
Ahead of the Tuesday evening public hearing on the town manager’s fiscal 2023 proposed budget, Warrenton Town Council members revealed they are wary of suggested tax increases.

During Tuesday’s morning work session, several council members raised concerns about Brandie Schaffer’s $32.4 million proposed budget, saying tax increases would negatively affect many town residents who are suffering from things like rising inflation and gas prices.

According to the proposal, residents would not see an increase in their real estate tax rate. The town would keep the rate at $0.05 per $100 of assessed value. However, because the value of properties in town increased by 22.05 percent, the average resident’s tax bill would increase from $171.87 to $209.68 and yield an additional $156,359 in revenue for the town.

In an April 1 letter to the Town Council, Schaeffer said the town has maintained a real estate tax rate at or below 5 cents per $100 of assessed value for the past 22 years. She noted Warrenton’s real estate taxes are currently below that of other surrounding towns, including Culpeper, which has a rate of $0.085.

The local meals tax rate would increase from 4 to 6 percent in the spending plan, yielding an additional $1.5 million in revenue. Surrounding localities, including Culpeper, have a meals tax rate of 6 percent. The meals tax is currently the town’s largest source of income, accounting for 21 percent of its annual revenue.

Schaffer is also calling for increasing the cigarette tax from $0.20 to $0.40 per pack, which would yield approximately $227,321 in additional revenue. Schaffer said the increased revenue from the cigarette tax would help offset the $200,000 the town may lose if the state eliminates the grocery tax.

The most outspoken opponent of the proposed tax increases was Ward 2 council member William Semple, who said he didn’t quite understand why the town manager was suggesting the town implement higher taxes, such as a 2 percent meals tax increase and cigarettes, when many other municipalities and states were lowering their tax rates.

“I think it's important for us to understand precisely why we’re doing what we’re doing,” he said.

“I want to make sure we provide the most efficient government that we can,” Semple later added.

At-Large council member Renard Carlos said he agrees with Semple that it will be hard to defend the proposed tax rate because of the fluctuating economy.

“Our job is to be as responsible as we can and look at ways to rebalance our revenues, but you have to do that in ways that hopefully our residents, our communities, our business owners, can expect and brace for it,” he said.

Ward 4 council member James Hartman asked to schedule another public work session for next week to review the budget proposal more in-depth.

“I'd like to hear from the public at the hearing tonight on both of these matters, and then we could all sit down and hammer out discussion,” he said.

Mayor Carter Nevill said he was open to the idea of further discussing tax increases, but he cautioned the council to consider that the town’s ability to provide quality services to town residents may be jeopardized without more revenue being generated.

“I’m a little concerned that when we look at our revenue coming from property taxes in comparison to other municipalities and say that we should just follow what everyone else does, but I feel like we are at inherent risk of … relying on other sources of revenue which might be more susceptible to fluctuations in the marketplace,” he said.

The increase in tax revenue would mainly help support rising costs for the town caused by inflation, replacing the aging workforce and ensuring the town’s employee compensation and benefits stays competitive with surrounding jurisdictions, according to the town manager.

The town expected it would need to raise taxes several years ago to keep up with its operational cost, including upgrading and replacing the town’s water and sewer infrastructure. But it delayed the hikes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A public hearing on the budget and proposed tax rates will be held May 10 at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall in Warrenton. The final vote on the proposed budget is set for June 14, but that date could be subject to change.
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katedoyle12 · May 10, 2022 at 10:42 pm
During the Covid 19 pandemic as well as the inflation of the economy, it is very necessary to stabilize tax rates. That will help people live better. wordle game
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