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.