The Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors has voted to advertise a real estate tax rate of 86.3 cents per $100 of assessed value for fiscal year 2020—3 cents higher than what county Administrator Mark Taylor proposed.
The board supported the measure 6–1 Tuesday, with Chairman Paul Trampe voting against it.
Taylor’s proposed operating budget of $496.5 million is 4.8 percent, or $22.5 million, higher than the fiscal 2019 budget, but includes no change to any of the tax rates. The supervisors can vote to lower the advertised real estate tax rate, but would have to hold additional public hearings in order to increase it.
A key driver for a possible increase in the tax rate is funding the county’s schools.
A stream of teachers, students and parents addressed the supervisors during Tuesday’s meeting, imploring them to support the school system’s budget request.
During nearly two hours of public comments, speakers told the board the school system needed to be fully funded in order for teachers and other staff to earn an adequate living and to handle increasing needs for such things as English as a Second Language students, as well as those with disabilities.
Speakers talked about the increasing challenges teachers face and that many of them have to get extra jobs to help make ends meet.
Riverbend High School Principal Troy Wright said some of the school’s teachers leave college with large debts, and even with second jobs they “simply cannot afford” teacher licenses with their salaries. “We are facing a very real national teacher shortage,” he added.
Riverbend senior Jake Hainsey told the board about issues he and other marching band members have to contend with. Because of a lack of funding for the band, he told supervisors the band’s 15-year-old uniforms are tattered and that it costs $400 per student to participate.
The School Board and supervisors held a work session following the public comment period to discuss the budget.
Schools Superintendent Scott Baker requested a total operating budget of $302.1 million. The budget, approved 5–2 by the School Board, requests $140.8 million in local funding, $12.3 million more than the fiscal 2019 contribution. The proposed budget would include a 5 percent raise for all school staff, plus additional raises for some salary study recommendations.
Much of the talk during the work session centered on finding a way to get school funding back to pre-2008 recession levels, when it accounted for a larger percentage of the county budget. Some of the supervisors seemed to agree.
Some supervisors, however, were taken aback by Baker’s request for 149 new positions, which was many more than expected. Baker and School Board members stressed that the request is based on need, but that they also understand the budget constraints.
“We’re trying to say these are all the needs,” Baker told the supervisors, adding that past budget requests focused on filling bare minimum needs.
School Board member Dawn Shelley said, “This budget is for our students” and that properly funding the school system shouldn’t be a fight. “This is not spending money; this is investing.”
Some supervisors were supportive of the challenge and agreed that the system needs more funding.
“We can’t keep letting the school share of the budget slip,” Trampe said.
Gary Skinner said agreed.
“There is probably a need for a tax increase,” he said.
Supervisor Chris Yakabouski said some of the $12.3 million gap probably could be closed in the fiscal 2020 budget, but not all of it. He also stressed that the county needs to address the issue so it doesn’t keep coming up each year.
A public hearing on the county budget is scheduled for March 26.