A split Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday set the advertised real estate tax rate at 87.97 cents per $100 assessed value.
If the board approves the recommended budget, the real estate tax rate would jump more than 3 cents over the current 84.74 cents and well above the baseline equalized rate of 81 cents required to offset an increase from property reassessments.
Aside from the Massaponnax special service district, which would increase by one penny to 17 cents, all other county tax rates would remain the same. Special service district taxes raise funds for transportation.
The 4–3 vote on the advertised rate followed comments from 25 residents and a work session by the board, which is wrestling with what several members and staff called a complex budget, one that could include the combination of a real estate tax hike and large property assessment increases.
Supervisor Kevin Marshall said the budget could be the toughest in two decades.
The operating budget proposed by County Administrator Ed Petrovitch is just more than $525.4 million, up 5.2 percent from the fiscal 2020 budget of $499.4 million. Capital improvement projects would add another $68 million to the spending plan that goes into effect July 1.
The schools operating budget would account for $305 million of the county’s overall budget, and as in the past, education was a key focus during the meeting.
The prospect of spiking taxes was addressed by many speakers.
Bonnie Jewel, assistant county administrator for finances and services, told the board that without setting the tax rate at 87.97 cents, funds will not be available for public safety pay increases, money needed to fill the school funding gap and capital project debt payment, among other items.
While the school system is set to receive more money this year, parents, teachers and other school staff told the supervisors some schools have inadequate facilities and more employees are needed. As proposed, the schools budget would add 62 positions to the school system.
Most speakers supported increased funding for schools and said they are OK with higher taxes. Others said the school system needs to do a better job making the environment safe and welcoming to students and that the potential tax increase would create an undue burden on the elderly and others already struggling to makes ends meet.
The biggest driver in the potential real estate tax increase is the county’s new pay plan for public safety workers, which will account for 5 cents of the rate. An additional penny would have to be added to the real estate tax rate to close a $4 million schools funding gap without making cuts.
Supervisors Tim McLaughlin, Barry Jett and David Ross voted against the advertised rate.
McLaughlin said residents are simply facing too many new taxes, from the county and state, and that the supervisors need to “scrub” the budget before approving it. Jett said the county is growing too much and “that it isn’t paying for itself.” He said the board needs to find the right balance.
Ross noted that the board has funded new staff and raises for the school system annually since 2015 and wondered if the teacher shortage is the crisis as some speakers intimated. He added that the school system will be getting millions of dollars more than in the current budget, even though he lamented the low federal total and wondered if there is a way to improve that.
Supervisor Deborah Frazier, principal of Chancellor Middle School, staunchly defended the school budget and needs. Frazier said her school is “stretched thin.”
She added that those in education feel underappreciated in having to constantly defend their need for more money and that she hoped everyone could work together instead of competing.
The freshman supervisor then made a motion to set the advertised real estate rate a penny higher, but the board rejected it, 4–3.
Supervisor Chris Yakabouski challenged Ross’ doubts about school’s needing more teachers, saying the Courtland District supervisor failed to account for unfunded positions in past budgets.
Yakabouski wanted to set the advertised rate higher in order to have flexibility. The board can lower the advertised tax rate before setting it, but can’t increase it without additional advertising and meetings.
Following the supervisors’ vote, Marshall said the board needs to avoid the dual hit a tax hike and spiking property assessments would have on residents.
He encouraged residents to appeal their assessments and moved to send a letter to the county’s Commissioner of the Revenue asking for a 30-day extension on appeals, with an additional 30 days for elderly residents. The deadline for appeals was Wednesday.
The board approved the motion, 7–0.
The board will hold a public hearing prior to voting on the county budget.