After much haggling and number-crunching, the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors has approved a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that includes a slight tax increase.
The supervisors set the real estate tax rate at 84.74 cents per $100 of assessed value, more than a penny higher than the current rate of 83.3 cents. The approved operating budget of $498.2 million is $24.2 million, or 5.12 percent, higher than fiscal 2019.
The supervisors’ vote was 4–3, with Chis Yakabouski, Gary Skinner, Kevin Marshall and Greg Benton voting for the tax rate. Supervisors David Ross, Tim McLaughlin and Paul Trampe voted against it.
The key sticking points on the budget revolved around funding for schools and covering the county’s employee health insurance program.
The supervisors added $3 million for schools in the budget, bumping it up to $131.1 million. The board added $750,000 to help cover the health insurance costs.
Another change came from a proposal by Yakabouski and approved by the board to eliminate the county’s fee for concealed firearm permits, which removed $62,000 in revenue from the budget.
Schools Superintendent Scott Baker requested a total operating budget of $301.1 million. The school system also gets state and federal funding.
The additional local funds cut into the $12.3 million funding gap for the schools budget, but didn’t close it.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t get the full $12 million, because they are needs,” School Board Chairman Baron Braswell said in a Friday interview. “But I’m glad we got more.”
The school system want to fund 149 new positions in the budget, much more than the 30 new hires supervisors expected. Baker has told the supervisors that his budget request reflects the actual needs to get the system where it needs to be.
Braswell echoed what Baker and Chief Financial Officer LaShahn Gaines told supervisors Thursday night, that one issue they have to account for are “unfunded mandates” by the state requiring more counselors and social workers.
Braswell said the school system “lost money” because of the state doesn’t provide enough funds to cover the required positions.
Braswell said the School Board will meet Monday to determine its budget priorities.
“It’s our responsibility to meet our priorities,” he said. “We’re gonna look out for our employees.”
Public safety funding also was a key part of discussions during the budget process, with supervisors looking to increase pay, based on a report from the county’s fire and rescue officials and the Sheriff’s Office.
Implementing the new public safety pay scale would have cost $2.8 million in the fiscal 2020 budget. The supervisors considered adding $1.2 million to start raising the pay, but after failing to come to a consensus, the board decided to address the issue later.
Public safety accounts for 11 percent of the operating budget, the second highest expenditure in the proposal. Fire and rescue requests total $21.97 million and the Sheriff’s Office requests $19 million.
The Social Services Department requests $10.150 million, which includes funding for seven new positions.
The budget also includes funding for staff pay increases, based on a study produced for the county, amounting to $2 million. The study-based raises have been phased in; this is the third and final year for county staff raises and the second year for school employees.