WINCHESTER — With the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic shuttering businesses and forcing people out of jobs, the Frederick County Board of Supervisors reached a consensus Wednesday night to not implement a 5-cent real estate tax increase, which it had been considering.
In fact, it doesn’t look like any tax increase will be imposed for fiscal 2021.
“This is a very troubling and difficult time,” said interim Shawnee District Supervisor Gene Fisher, who previously spoke in favor of raising taxes to address county needs. Gainesboro District Supervisor J. Douglas McCarthy agreed. Given the economic havoc created by the virus, McCarthy said it “is imperative more than ever” to not raise taxes. McCarthy also expressed concern about the county not being prepared for the likelihood of reduced revenues as a result of the pandemic.
But Opequon District Supervisor Bob Wells said he believes the county is still “playing catch up” from the 2007-2009 economic recession when it comes to funding critical needs. He said not raising taxes or reducing the budget would be bad for the county’s future.
Stonewall District Supervisor Judith McCann-Slaughter said she wants to make sure the school division has enough money to open the new Jordan Springs Elementary School in the fall.
Back Creek District Supervisor Shawn Graber wondered if it would be possible to cut the county budget 3%, 5% or 10%, with the exception of emergency services, social services and debt reduction, possibly adjusting the budget if the county gets more revenue than expected.
County Administrator Kris Tierney said it felt premature to make major adjustments to the budget “when we don’t know what we are dealing with.”
Initially, the supervisors advertised a $474.25 million budget for FY21, with a 5-cent tax increase. Since there is an overlap among various funds within the budget, the actual amount of money being spent was approximately $355.6 million.
Now that the supervisors don’t want to implement a 5-cent tax increase, they plan on adopting a $465.62 million budget, putting the actual amount of money being spent closer to $350 million.
The county’s real estate tax rate is currently 61 cents per $100 of assessed value. A 1-cent tax increase generates $1.1 million in revenue.
Tierney said “the entire world had been turned upside down” in recent weeks as a result of the coronavirus, adding that the county is trying to adjust. Due to the pandemic’s impact on businesses such as hotels and restaurants, the county expects to lose revenue from meals and lodging taxes, which account for 6.54% of county revenue.
Tierney also said he doesn’t know how revenue from the state, which makes up 30.62% of the county budget, will be impacted. He said the supervisors would have to amend the budget if revenues take a big hit.
County Finance Director Cheryl Shiffler said the county has about $39 million in reserves that could cover county expenses for two months.
Frederick County Public Schools is seeking an additional $2.8 million from the county to hire 40 employees and fund utilities, materials and supplies for Jordan Springs Elementary. The $27 million school is under construction on Flyfoot Drive in Stephenson and is slated to open in August.
Even without a real estate tax increase, the county still expects to have an additional $4.7 million in local tax revenue in the upcoming fiscal year. If the county splits this revenue with the school division 57/43 as it has historically done, $2 million would be set aside for the county’s general fund, while $2.7 million would go to the school division.
McCann-Slaughter said the $2.7 million should almost cover the school’s request to open Jordan Springs.
Fisher said “it would be sinful” to not open the new school after so much money had been spent building it.
Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent David Sovine has proposed a $233 million budget for the school division for FY21 (up from $218.4 million this fiscal year). It calls for a $178.8 million operating fund and an extra $15.4 million in local tax dollars ($10.9 million for the operating fund, $800,000 for debt service fund for school construction projects and $3.7 million for non-recurring capital needs). The total amount of local funding sought is $97.3 million, up from $86.4 million.
At Fisher’s suggestion, the supervisors generally agreed to not give county employees a 2% merit/Cost of Living Adjustment pay increase due to the uncertain financial situation. The $1 million that would have gone toward salary increases would instead be used to fund new positions the county considers vital. The positions include six firefighters, a School Resource Officer for Jordan Springs, a Department of Social Services benefit manager, an environmental inspector, IT Deputy Director and a Sheriff’s Office investigator.
The board plans to adopt the county budget during its April 8 meeting.
Citizens can still submit comments about the budget to the board via the county website at www.fcva.us/2021BudgetComments, by emailing them to Karen Vacchio at firstname.lastname@example.org or Ann Phillips at email@example.com, or mailing them to BOS BUDGET 2021 PUBLIC HEARING COMMENTS, 107 N. Kent St., Winchester, VA 22601. Include your name, address and magisterial district.
Chairman Charles DeHaven Jr. and board members Blaine Dunn, Bob Wells, Shawn Graber and Gene Fisher attended the budget work session in the County Administration Building. Supervisors J. Douglas McCarthy and Judith McCann-Slaughter participated remotely through a conference call.