WINCHESTER — Members of the Frederick County Board of Supervisors were split Wednesday night on whether a tax increase was necessary for the upcoming fiscal year.

Supervisors J. Douglas McCarthy, Blaine Dunn and Shawn Graber said during a budget work session they were not in favor of a tax increase, while Chairman Charles DeHaven Jr., Judith McCann-Slaughter, Bob Wells and Gene Fisher did not want to rule out the possibility. McCann-Slaughter and DeHaven pointed out that the supervisors are not sure how much money the Frederick County school division will need this year. Superintendent David Sovine is expected to present the school budget to the Board of Supervisors in late February.

“I would hate to see us have to do one, particularly late in our budget analysis, but I can’t say I will not support it,” DeHaven said.

The county's current real estate tax is 61 cents per $100 of assessed value. A 1 cent tax increase generates roughly $1 million in revenue.

County Administrator Kris Tierney said earlier this month that a real estate tax increase is necessary to fund new positions, capital requests and more than $4 million in requested operating costs. But several supervisors are concerned about the impact of a tax increase on longtime county residents, especially those on fixed income.

“I’ve been very clear since our first budget meeting I would not support a tax increase in any way,” Graber said.

But Fisher disagreed, saying the county has fallen behind in funding critical needs for more than a decade.

“I think, at a minimum, if we don’t have a tax increase of 4 or 5 cents, we are going to be in a lot of trouble,” Fisher said. “How long are we going to let these things keep piling up until the bottom falls out somewhere?”

Fisher said if the board keeps “kicking the can down the street, it will come back to haunt you.” For example, he said, if the board doesn't pay for a $300,000 increase in the hauling/recycling contract, the county will save money in the short term. But in the long term, recyclable materials will be dumped at the landfill, which will quickly take up landfill space and force the county to search for hundreds of acres of new landfill space.

Fisher also said the age of the county’s Fire and Rescue equipment was “unsettling.”

Dunn said he would like to see if the Board of Supervisors could rely on other sources of revenue, such as an increase in the county’s meals tax. Wells said he doesn't anticipate the General Assembly allowing the county to increase its meals tax, calling it “a pipe dream.”

Wells said many of his constituents are demanding more services and they seem to be willing to pay for it. He said he is not ready to say “no tax increases” and that “we’ve cut our budget pretty thin.” McCarthy said new county residents demanding services should be the ones to pay for the services — not longtime residents who don’t need new services.

The county expects to have an additional $4.7 million in local tax revenue in the upcoming fiscal year. If there are no tax increases, $2 million of this revenue is expected to be set aside for the general fund, while $2.7 million would go to the school division. Historically, Frederick County Public Schools has received 57% of local tax dollars, while the county gets 43%.

At McCarthy’s request, Tierney showed two different funding scenarios — one with the traditional 57/43 split and another prioritizing the county’s needs without giving additional revenue to the school division.

If the county does not give the school division 57% of the additional local tax dollars, it will be able to fund architectural designs for the Sunnyside Plaza (purchased by the county to serve as extra office space) as well as pay for IT battery backup, network monitoring, sheriff taser/body cam contracts, an increase in cellular chargers, an increase in funding to outside agencies, a School Resource Officer for Snowden Bridge Elementary, a sheriff's office investigator, costs associated with a new recycling contract and an environmental inspector. Under this scenario, the county would also be able to increase its coverage of health insurance and cost of living adjustments for county employees.

However, several supervisors said it would not be realistic to assume that the county won’t provide the school division any additional local funding.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Tierney and County Finance Director Cheryl Shiffler agreed to work on developing a budget scenario that would include a 5-cent tax increase, so that the supervisors could see what the additional $5 million would be able to cover.

— Contact Josh Janney at jjanney@winchesterstar.com

(13) comments

Paula

If they are going to raise the taxes, then give seniors on a fixed income a discount?

Mullinska

There is a system in place for tax relief for elderly and disabled, as well as veterans. https://www.fcva.us/departments/commissioner-of-the-revenue/real-estate-division/tax-relief

gscottanderson

So the tax rate went from .60 to .61 in 2018, but the rate was .51 in 2010? That means it went from .51 to .60 in 6 years (or less). Not sure if this is correct.

But any way you slice it, that is a lot of taxation and, yet, somehow it isn't enough and we must do it again. Which is my whole point - it never ends when government starts down that road.

Violet

I found a real estate tax bill from 2010 and the rate then was .51. In less than 10 years it's up to .61 and now they want to raise it again.

gscottanderson

It sure seems like we have had a tax increase very year for the last 3 or 4 years, doesn't it? Here is my challenge to the supervisors that are for the tax increase - pledge that if you ram it through this year that you won't support another tax increase for several years. Bet you won't do that!

redsox

Tax increase every year? 60 cents in 2016, 60 in 2017, 61 in 2018, 61 in 2019.

Steve Cunningham

redsox, in that time span that you reference there was a reassessment and the higher property values along with no increase in the tax rate, resulted in what was essentially a tax increase.

Rattler

Guess the county will start the mass move out. Not everyone has the funds for this increase and your new schools look like taj mahal. Ridiculous

Mullinska

Have you seen the Taj Mahal? It is a marble clad Mausoleum. Nothing about the new schools erected in Frederick county resemble this. A marble clad building would be much more expensive to build and very expensive to maintain. Her is a link to remind you of what the Taj Mahal actually looks like.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/eight-secrets-taj-mahal-180962168/

ShruggingAtlas

Rattler's point is that we need schools that are focused more on substance and keeping costs down, less on style.

Mullinska

It isn't about style, it is about education. Newer schools looks different than the brick structures we are used to because of differences in construction, energy efficiency and crime prevention. Yes, glass ACTUALLY helps in crime prevention. Look up CPTED and you will see how transparency is one of the biggest deterrents to crime. These are not concepts that have come from designers, but from multi-disciplined groups including law enforcement. You don't need to like what it looks like, but know that every decision is backed by research and consideration for education and safety first.

Mullinska

AND, sometimes up front costs are higher for things that will cut down drastically on energy consumption for the entire lifetime of the building.

One example is that a standing seam metal roof is more expensive than a flat membrane roof, but it will last 60+ years with better drainage and less potential for roof leakage. However, with cuts, the roof chosen for Jordan Springs is a flat membrane roof that will need to be replaced in 25-30 years. So tax payers will need to pay for 2 roofs before the metal roof would be showing wear... the flat roof plus its replacement will cost more than just installing the metal roof to begin. So, pay now or pay more later... it seems like our county prefers to pay more later.

Steve Cunningham

Mullinska….everyone's point here being that Frederick County Schools wasted a ton of money on lavish items not needed at Frederick County Middle School. That is the model of wasted money on non essential items

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