Frederick residents bemoan funding

Posted: March 27, 2014

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — Frederick County residents spoke out in favor of increased financial support for agencies like Handley Regional Library and the locality’s school system and educators during a Wednesday night public hearing.

Twenty-six people — including those who either work for the county or for organizations that receive county funding — spoke at the hearing on Frederick’s proposed fiscal year 2015 budget and real estate tax rate. Of those who spoke, 23 wanted additional funding for various departments or organizations and three were in favor of either maintaining the current tax rate or reduced funding.

The public hearing — which lasted just over an hour — was held at the beginning of a Frederick County Board of Supervisors meeting.

The county’s current real estate tax rate is 58.5 cents per $100 of assessed value, or $1,170 on a $200,000 home.

While the supervisors could adopt a lower tax rate for FY2015, the board cannot increase the rate over what was advertised in advance of the hearing. Without a tax increase, the supervisors will cut $7,178,612 from funding requests from various county departments and community organizations.

County officials are reviewing funding requests from government departments and outside agencies that would amount to a $143,670,358 spending plan for fiscal year 2015 — about $10.65 million more than the current budget.

The supervisors approved a $133,024,407 budget for FY2014 on April 9, and that was about a $5.8 million increase over the previous year’s budget. The FY2015 budget will take effect on July 1.

Several Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) representatives — including Superintendent David Sovine, School Board Chairman Stuart Wolk, Frederick County Education Association President Joy Kirk and multiple teachers — asked the supervisors to find a way to provide school employees with a one-step (or 2.5 percent) pay increase.

Providing a one-step increase to all FCPS employees would cost about $2.5 million. The last pay increase for school employees was in October 2013, which was the first hike in five years, according to Lisa Frye, executive director of finance for FCPS.

The local school division will receive $4,620,419 in additional funding from the county over FY14, despite the absence of a tax increase to generate additional revenue. The additional funding will pay for full-day kindergarten — roughly $1.7 million — starting in the fall and increases in employees’ state-mandated Virginia Retirement System and health insurance costs.

Multiple school employees told the board that Frederick County is continually losing skilled educators to Northern Virginia schools because the division’s pay is not competitive.

Keith Lichliter, a business teacher at Robert E. Aylor Middle School in Stephens City, said that he loves his job but dreads that he might have to change careers if his income remains stagnant.

He also asked the supervisors how county employees are supposed to get ahead in life without opportunities for increased pay.

Other citizens asked for increased fire and rescue funding since the county can’t offer competitive pay for its first responders; more library funding (Handley Regional Library is projected to receive $62,665 less than what it requested for FY2015); and that the supervisors continue to fund Our Health, the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum and Blue Ridge Legal Services, none of which are scheduled to receive funding in the coming fiscal year.

County resident Dody Stottlemyer, however, told the board that people are still struggling in the current economy and that many would be unable to afford a tax increase.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to adopt its FY2015 budget and real estate tax rate on April 9.

Attending the meeting in the Frederick County Administration Building were Chairman Richard C. Shickle, Vice-Chairman Charles S. DeHaven Jr. and members Gary A. Lofton, Gene E. Fisher, Christopher E. Collins, Robert A. Hess and Robert Wells.

— Contact Matt Armstrong at marmstrong@winchesterstar.com