By Randy Arrington
LURAY, April 7 — On Tuesday night, the Page County Board of Supervisors voted, 5-1, to advertise a new tax rate on real estate of 87 cents per $100 of assessed value. That represents a 14-cent — or 19.2 percent — hike in the current 73-cent tax rate.
For the owner of a $250,000 home, that means an increase of $350 in their annual tax bill (from $1,825 to $2,175). However, that doesn’t account for new property values that take affect midway through the fiscal year on Jan. 1, 2022 as part of the reassessment process. The Page County Board of Equalization plans to hold meetings beginning April 12 through July 21 to hear complaints about perceived discrepancies or errors in the new assessments, according to a published public notice.
No advertised changes were mentioned at Tuesday night’s meeting for other tax rates in the county to include personal property, machinery and tools, motor carriers and aircraft. During last year’s budget deliberations, the board of supervisors voted unanimously to lower three of the five tax rates in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact on residents.
The county’s personal property (vehicles) tax rate was lowered last April from $4.59 to $4.40 per $100 of assessed value after being noted as the third-highest in the region at the time. The tax rate on machinery and tools, as well as motor carriers, was lowered from $2 to $1.50. There was no change in the $0.50 rate on aircraft, or the 73-cent tax rate on real estate. The total loss of $411,879 in county revenue from the reduction of tax rates was countered last year by a $403,548 projected surplus in the current fiscal year.
On Tuesday night, the board of supervisors collectively expressed a desire to not raise taxes; and if they did, not by nearly 20 percent. However, five of the six supervisors decided to advertise the 14-cent increase in the real estate tax rate to show taxpayers what would be required to meet all of the requests submitted by the school system, the sheriff’s office, emergency services and other departments. However, to additionally fund all requests in the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for the county and the schools would have required another 16 cents on top of the 14 cents already being advertised.
A one-cent increase in the tax rate would generate about $205,000 in additional revenue.
“I think we need to let the constituents see what we’re facing,” District 5 supervisor Jeff Vaughan said before making the motion to advertise the higher tax rate. Once the supervisors advertise a tax rate, they may lower that rate, but they cannot impose a higher tax rate that what was publicly advertised.
“I think we’re all in agreement that we’re not voting for 14 cents,” District 1 supervisor Keith Guzy said on Tuesday. “But by putting 14 cents out there, that’s being transparent with our citizens and showing what we’re dealing with in these requests.”
When asked for her opinion by Chairman Morgan Phenix, County Administrator Amity Moler recommended no tax increase as county residents continue to recover from economic impacts of the pandemic.
“In the budget information I presented, I didn’t recommend a tax increase. I think it’s the wrong time to raise taxes on our citizens,” Moler said. “You all have line-item budgets for all departments, so I invite you to go over it…because there’s not much there” to cut.
Despite noting “tight times” during a year in which millions of unanticipated federal dollars have flowed into local coffers, supervisors stated several times on Tuesday that the 14-cent increase to bridge the gap between requests and revenues could be lowered through several different measures. Among those is the anticipated allocation of an additional $4 million over the next two years from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan of 2021. The county intends to use some of those funds to address maintenance and repairs as outlined in uses for the second round ARP funds.
Supervisors noted that a nearly 5-cent increase in the tax rate would be needed to fund the school system’s additional requests alone, including $500,000 for employee raises being (more or less) mandated by the state.
Several factors are still at play, including a meeting of the state’s Compensation Board planned for today that could effect funding for numerous positions in the sheriff’s office. County officials are also hoping that federal funds received due to the COVID pandemic could be used for other purposes, such as two-year funding for two drug intervention officers being requested by the sheriff’s office and repairs and maintenance issues at the county jail. Additional federal funding for schools could also be forthcoming in the coming year. A projected $3 million profit at the Battle Creek Landfill in the next fiscal year could also ease fiscal pressures after the facility looks to bring in about $1 million during the current fiscal year.
District 2 supervisor Allen Louderback was the lone vote against advertising the 14-cent tax increase. Louderback stated that he didn’t want to “subject citizens to this kind of shock” as he questioned the county’s funding for schools.
“How much are we overfunding the school system?” asked Louderback, referring to the minimum funding for schools required by the state. The answer was roughly $3 million — while the state requires about $11 million from local coffers (based on the current budget and enrollment), Page has provided about $14 million in the current fiscal year.
“Have they offered any reductions?” asked Louderback, following the Page County School Board‘s unanimous approval of its proposed budget for presentation to the supervisors nearly three weeks ago. “I just don’t think they have sharpened their pencils enough.”
Although it’s unlikely, if supervisors do increase the real estate tax rate by 14 cents, it would be the largest tax increase in Page County since 2011 when a 33-percent tax increase was imposed. In 2001, the real estate tax rate stood at 74 cents per $100 of assessed value. It was lowered to 63 cents in 2003, and then lowered again to 48 cents in 2007 as a means of “equalization” following higher reassessments. However, a stern stance by supervisors to not raise taxes over the next four years — as costs increased — created a funding bubble that burst a decade ago when the rate jumped from 48 to 64 cents.
The board of supervisors plan to officially set the tax rate for FY22 following a public hearing on the issue set for Tuesday, April 20. The county budget is scheduled for adoption by supervisors on Tuesday, May 4.
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For those of us on a fixed income this is a mighty big jump for us to figure out where to cut back in order to pay out. I hope and pray iall this is considered as well as those that are trying to recover from the past year.