The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused Stafford County officials and supervisors to take a closer look at the proposed fiscal year 2021 budget.

Supervisors held a work session Thursday to wade through the budget one final time ahead of Tuesday’s public hearing, which will allow citizens an opportunity to weigh in on the proposal.

That hearing will be held at the George L. Gordon Jr. Government Center, 1300 Courthouse Road, beginning at 7 p.m. Supervisors are scheduled to adopt the budget and tax rate on April 21. Tax bills are expected to be mailed to county residents early next month.

Early last month, supervisors set the advertised real estate tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year at $1.03 for every $100 of assessed value. They also proposed a 23-cent increase in personal property taxes, as well as a 1.5 percent increase in user fees for county water and sewer services.

“I’m not feeling we should raise that right now,” said Supervisor Tom Coen. “Nobody else on the board is pushing for that, either. I think these are nonstarters.”

Over the course of numerous budget planning sessions that have led up to the public hearing, county staff has provided supervisors with a variety of draft budget scenarios, ranging in penny increments from the equalized rate of 97.9 cents to $1.03, to allow supervisors to examine the financial impact on the county.

On Thursday, supervisors reviewed a draft budget at the equalized rate, but even at that rate, county budget analysts predict a revenue shortfall in fiscal year 2020 of $6.54 million, attributing the losses to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For the upcoming fiscal year, a budget shortfall of $2.02 million is already anticipated, using the equalized tax rate as a model.

To help make up for some of the shortfalls both now and heading into the next fiscal year, supervisors are mulling over deep cuts across the board and possibly dipping into the county’s reserve funds.

Stafford County Administrator Tom Foley said a $2 million transfer from the reserve funds would help the county meet its fiscal obligations in the short term.

“Reserves is a big piece of how we might plug that $2 million hole,” said Foley. “It may be that some money also has to come from what the schools get today. They have to come down, just like the general fund side.”

Other items on the table include a $4 million pay raise and staff increase for county first responders.

Chairwoman Meg Bohmke said those raises cannot be implemented if supervisors set the budget at the lower equalized rate on April 21.

“I am very concerned about not having the public safety dollars in the budget,” said Bohmke. “We’re trying to figure out how to make that happen and include that in our budget.”

Bohmke said other considerations for savings include reducing a $4.2 million transfer to county schools by $1.2 million, which represents the operating transfer, shared services, and public day school funding portions of the proposed budget. Supervisors are also considering holding back $1 million in debt service for a new high school.

Roadway safety improvement projects approved by county residents as a road bond referendum in November 2019 will proceed, according to Andrew Spence, Stafford’s community engagement director. Spence said some projects scheduled to begin in early summer, including improvements along Leeland Road, have been delayed. Additional delays on Shelton Shop and Enon Road projects are also likely, Spence added.

Tuesday’s public hearing will be broadcast live on Comcast channel 23, Cox channel 90 and Verizon channel 39, as well as online, beginning at 7 p.m.

County residents can submit comments to supervisors by completing an online form either before or during the meeting. All submissions received will be read into the public record.

The online form is located at staffordcountyva.gov/publichearings.

Although county officials want the public to remain at home during the coronavirus pandemic, provisions will be made for those residents who choose to come to the government center Tuesday.

A camera, microphone and speakers will be situated near the main entrance of the facility to allow residents to communicate directly to supervisors during the evening’s public hearing. County officials said deputies will be on hand to ensure social distancing is maintained.

James Scott Baron: 540/374-5438

jbaron@freelancestar.com

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