State leaves uncertainty late in budget season; county advertising several tax increases



By Randy Arrington, publisher

At the onset, we offer our apologies to our readers…while multiple budget meetings have taken place in recent weeks among various government agencies with regard to FY24 budgets, we have been reluctant to report on those deliberations. However, we offer the following reasoning…too many questions remained.

Various budget talks, especially those of schools, have talked about “options” and a lot of “well if this happens, then this happens.” The process seemed too uncertain and complex to explain in earlier stages.

The multiple options and scenarios discussed have been based on the fact that after its normal 60-day “short session” and a follow-up special session, state legislators in the General Assembly have been unable to break a bitterly-partisan debate and reach a compromise on the state budget. Their failure to act has local decision-makers across the commonwealth collectively sitting on their hands and holding their breath, while the fate of a significant part of their budgets is still being decided.

With plans to adopt their “final” budgets next month, both the Page County Board of Supervisors and the Page County School Board know that there may need to be changes made in July once the FY24 spending plan commences. Why?…Because final figures for state funding are likely to not be available until mid-June…just a couple of weeks before the end of the current fiscal year. The difference between the Governor’s recommended budget put forth in December and either the House or Senate version that could be adopted, could mean the difference in as much as $2 million in state funding for Page County Public Schools.

The county has advertised a proposed budget for FY24 that totals more than $2 million less than the current $88.6 million FY23 budget. Most departments seem to be level funded, including the local contribution for schools, with several changes to capital improvement spending. The county’s capital improvement funding shows a three-fold, $1.5 million increase, but capital improvements at the landfill and the schools shows nothing earmarked for these areas in the advertised budget.

We believe capital improvements will still be made in those areas, but a number of accounting and financial responsibilities continue to shift into different columns around county government. This is likely part of an ongoing movement that started with supervisors voting themselves categorial approval of the school budget, then taking over capital improvement spending for schools, and then to current plans to take over the school system’s finance department altogether.

This public act of distrust doesn’t set a good tone for local agencies operating under a certain expectation of public trust. While the supervisors are the only elected officials with taxing authority, school board members are also elected by the citizens to operate the school system. The strong-arm approach by supervisors might be better placed with departments that consistently run over budget — like the sheriff — rather than with the county’s largest employer, who consistently turns in a surplus of unspent funds at the end of the fiscal year, illustrating fiscal discipline rather than a “monopoly money” mentality.

The board of supervisors will hold a public hearing tonight at 7 p.m. on tax rates for FY24. The advertised rates show a four-cent or 5.5 percent increase in the tax in real estate (from $0.73 to $0.77 per $100 of assessed value) — and an 18.2 percent increase (70 cents) to personal property (vehicles only – from $3.85 to $4.55 per $100 of assessed value.)

The advertised tax rates rates for FY24 also included (all rates per $100 of assessed value):

  • $4.40 — personal property, everything except vehicles, no change;
  • $1.50 — machinery and tools, no change;
  • $1.50 — motor carriers, no change;
  • $0.50 — aircraft, no change.

It is important to note that governing bodies will often advertise a higher rate than anticipated to allow flexibility in the final stages of the budget process. While that governing body may decrease the rate in its final adoption, it may not increase the advertised rate.

This is expected tonight when the board of supervisors sets the tax rate — almost certainly below the advertised increases — and begins to set finite parameters for the upcoming spending plan.

But all of that is subject to change, and theoretically on hold, thanks to the folks in Richmond.

Feel free to agree or disagree in the comment section below.

To view the county’s proposed FY24 budget, CLICK HERE.



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