Stafford County’s Board of Supervisors voted 6–1 this week to adopt a fiscal 2020 budget that includes a tax increase and raises for teachers and county employees and takes steps toward building a new courthouse and high school.

The new $318 million budget—which transfers $127.5 million to county schools—goes into effect July 1. The budget also locks in a real-estate tax rate of $1.01 per $100 of assessed value—up 2 cents from the previous year, and allows for a 5 percent pay raise for all county employees, including educators.

“I’m disappointed with the tax increase,” said Supervisor Wendy Maurer, who still voted to approve the budget Tuesday. “I think we could have given all employees the raises that they deserve without raising taxes.”

Stafford educators fought for a pay raise during the budget cycle, and teachers were a vocal presence at board meetings and public hearings.

“I appreciate the Board of Supervisors’ willingness to support the school division in our quest to provide academic excellence for all children and to maintain a strong workforce,” said Stafford schools Superintendent Scott Kizner.

Supervisor Meg Bohmke said supervisors will be much more involved with the School Board next year during the budget-planning process.

“I am looking forward to the School Board implementing the recommendations that are coming to them from the Board of Supervisors as to what our expectations are for next year’s budget,” Bohmke said.

Other highlights of the new budget include funds for several transportation projects identified in the county’s road study and the implementation of recommendations in an employee compensation study. County officials said the study’s results will help them recruit, retain and reward quality employees to meet the increasing demands of the fast-growing county.

“We are going to be finalizing the pay study and communicating to the staff any changes in their pay levels over the next few weeks,” said County Administrator Tom Foley. “We will be filling newly approved positions after July 1.”

The county will also start designing a new $42 million courthouse expansion, which includes a new circuit courthouse and renovation of the existing facilities, as well as planning a sixth high school. The plan includes the design of the new high school, as well as locating a suitable site in the southern part of the county.

“Construction of the new high school begins in 2022, opening in 2026,” said Foley.

The budget also includes new jobs in the Sheriff’s Office to assist with recruitment and retention, as well as new positions in the county’s Fire & Rescue Department.

Although transportation was highlighted in the county’s budget proposal as a strategic priority, one supervisor felt the budget didn’t address the issue at all.

“I will not vote for a budget or a capital improvement program that doesn’t make a dedicated effort to address the transportation problem,” said Supervisor Mark Dudenhefer, the lone no vote on the board. “We have hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure problems and none of them were addressed.”

Other supervisors view the budget as something county residents, as well as county employees, will benefit from in the long run.

“It’s a good budget, there’s not a lot of fluff,” said Supervisors Chairman Gary Snellings. “County employees got much-needed raises, as did our teachers, who we’re losing to other localities up north. I think this budget will help settle things down.”

Also during Tuesday night’s meeting, both the supervisors and planning commissioners had an opportunity to look at Stantec’s report on managing growth in the region. Stantec—the consulting firm retained by the county to conduct the study—led two public hearings in April, which gave residents the opportunity to weigh in on the county’s goal of achieving 80 percent growth in urban services areas, while preserving 20 percent residential development in rural areas.

Due to the vast amount of information in the report, both the supervisors and the planning commissioners decided no action would be taken at Tuesday night’s meeting. Supervisors plan to discuss the report at their May 21 meeting.

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James Scott Baron: 540/374-5438 jbaron@freelancestar.com

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