Supervisors lower tax rates to ease financial burden during health crisis

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By Randy Arrington

LURAY, April 7 — The Page County Board of Supervisors recognizes the financial burden that many citizens and businesses are under during the current worldwide health crisis.

“In light of this coronavirus, I’d like to see some significant cuts, but nothing that’s going to knock us out of the ballpark,” Dr. Morgan Phenix, chairman of the board, said during Tuesday night’s discussion of tax rates for the next fiscal year.

Some members of the board urged caution in lowering rates too much, or at all. But other board members were passionate about providing some type of fiscal relief to citizens who are already under a great deal of physical anxiety and stress.

“I think in light of everything that is going on, we should take this opportunity to help our citizens and our businesses,” supervisor Keith Guzy stated from his home in District 1 during the live-streamed meeting. “We need to show people that we really are thinking of the citizens.”

After a detailed discussion of the various impacts of adjusting each tax rate, the supervisors voted unanimously to lower three of five tax rates in the county for the upcoming fiscal year. The adopted FY21 rates (per $100 of assessed value) are as follows:

  • Real Estate — $0.73 (no change)
  • Personal Property — $4.40 (was $4.59)
  • Machinery and Tools — $1.50 (was $2)
  • Motor Carriers — $1.50 (was $2)
  • Aircraft — $0.50 (no change)

In a 10-county regional comparison, Page County had the third-highest personal property tax rate, while all other tax rates fell somewhere in the middle.

“I wish we could do more,” District 5 supervisor Jeff Vaughn said following the vote, “but we have to pay bills too.”

The county advertised all tax rates at their current levels. Once publicly advertised, the supervisors may not raise tax rates any higher than the advertised amount. However, they did exercise their ability to lower those rates.

The 19-cent reduction in personal property tax will have a $285,779 impact on county revenue. The 25-percent drop in the machinery and tools tax will reduce revenue by $119,450. The same decrease in the motor carrier tax rate will lower county revenue by $6,650.

The total loss of $411,879 in county revenue from the reduction of tax rates will be countered by a $403,548 projected surplus in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Although no final decisions have been made and a public hearing — for both the school and county budgets — is still scheduled for Tuesday, April 21; it appears the tax cuts could result in the local school system receiving level funding for next year.

“In our FY21 projections, we had a surplus of $403,548 before making a decision on local funding to the school system,”County Administrator Amity Moler said on Wednesday. “Now, we have [no surplus] and will need to make some adjustments for the $8,000 [deficit].”

No increase for schools was factored into the county’s preliminary budget. The $69 million spending plan for FY21 includes the current local contribution of about $14.3 million for schools.

Supervisors also seemed to indicate that local schools need to take advantage of operational savings during the current shutdown. 

“There is an opportunity for the school system to look for every way to save money that should ordinarily be spent,” said Dr. Phenix, who previously served as chairman of the school board for two terms.

Supervisors cited savings in utilities and fuel, among other line items. A line-item expense report and expense projections are among the financial documents requested by the county, but not produced by the school system as of Tuesday’s tax rate meeting.

One problem in the lines of communication and the flow of financial documents during the current budget deliberations is due to a staff change in the school system’s finance office. Michele Mine resigned as director of finance on March 6. Janice Beahm, former finance director for Page Schools, was appointed interim director of finance on March 9.

“The transition in the finance office has made the [budget] process a little more difficult, unfortunately,” Dr. Wendy Gonzales, superintendent of Page County Public Schools, stated earlier this week. “It hit in the middle of budget season.”

Page County Public Schools recently cut its requested increase from the county in half — from $590,444 down to $299,642 in additional local funding.

Now, the local school division may have to find a way to close the nearly $300,000 deficit within their own $43 million budget. Additional projected revenue from the state drove the local school board to reduce its request. The additional state revenue for schools — the most they have ever received — was a point also noted by supervisors on Tuesday night.

With the public hearing slated for April 21, a final vote on the county budget is expected May 5.

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