2014 tax rate could rise 4 cents

The real estate tax in Rappahannock County is headed for an increase of 2 cents, and possibly 4 cents, when the new county budget is unveiled later this month, several board of supervisors members warned at the board’s regular monthly meeting Monday afternoon (March 4).

One 2-cent increase in the property tax rate (per $100 of assessed value) would add $300,000 to fund increased demand for the county’s Comprehensive Services Act (CSA) for At-Risk Youth and Families programs. Enacted in 1993, CSA provides services for at-risk youth and their families. Though state and federal funding helps pay for it, the biggest share falls largely on local governments.

The program predominantly covers children with developmental or behavioral issues, those with special education needs, who receive foster service and those who are under court supervision, among others.

As County Administrator John McCarthy explained in a presentation Monday, the state-mandated program is already serving more kids this fiscal year (41, through various services) than ever before. As such, the program has already exceeded its budget.

McCarthy said that the board needed to add more funds to CSA for fiscal year 2013, which will necessitate a two-cent increase on real estate tax in the budget. The real estate tax is at 61 cents per $100 of assessed value. One cent of last year’s 3-cent rate increase added $160,000 to CSA funding; that increase, McCarthy said, wasn’t enough.

“Unlike school enrollment rates, which you can usually predict fairly accurately, there’s just no way to predict how many people will enroll in this program,” McCarthy said in an interview Tuesday. “We saw a big increase in the last 18 months, and this is apparently the new normal.”

Though the board members haven’t voted on the matter – that will happen in April or May, when the 2013-2014 county budget is developed and finalized – each of the supervisors seemed resigned to the inevitability.

That increase also doesn’t take into account the demands of the still-evolving school budget, which will necessitate at least a one-cent additional raise to cover the increased salaries of teachers and school employees, and is currently at $12.5 million – $417,000 more than school division’s 2012-13 budget.

“Before we even think about the school budget, we have to take care of this [CSA addition],” said supervisor Chris Parrish.

Money was also on at least one citizen’s mind at Monday’s meeting, as Washington resident Jeffrey Knight commented on the school division’s yearly budget increases.

“It seems the budget process keeps adding to last year’s figures as a baseline,” Knight said, who wondered if perhaps the schools simply have too many people.

“We have a lot of people over there – a lot of good people,” Knight continued, “but I wonder if we have the right number of staff? . . . Maybe there’s a way to absorb some of those needs . . . That seems like a good task for an interim superintendent.”

In at least one bit of positive financial news, McCarthy said that the county is currently looking into alternative waste water treatments for the RSW Regional Jail currently under construction on Winchester Road, just off U.S. 522 and a few miles north of I-66 in Warren County.

The jail, due to open in 2014, will house inmates from Rappahannock, Warren and Shenandoah counties, with an initial capacity of 375 inmates.

McCarthy said that Rappahannock had initially sought to collect and use rain water for laundry, but were met with reluctance from local Front Royal officials. “They basically said, ‘If you’re not buying your water from us, we’re not going to let you put it in our sewer system,’” McCarthy said.

McCarthy, who serves on the RSW Regional Jail board, said that led the county to explore the possibility of building its own sewage system for the jail, which he said could save around $3 million over the life of the facility. Furthermore, providing the jail its own water supply via well would allow the county to “break even” with purchasing the water directly from Front Royal.

“We’ll have to treat the water, no matter what,” McCarthy said. “But them immediately answering ‘no’ was a mistake.”

Like the many other monetary decisions this early in the year, McCarthy said no decision has been finalized, and that the RSW board is in talks with Front Royal officials.

Deer harvest report

The supervisors also heard a report on the deer harvest trends in Rappahannock County (and some surrounding areas) for 2012. The report, presented by David Kocka and Jerry Sims of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), said that there were 1,639 legal deer kills in the county in 2012, an overall decrease from the 1,887 recorded in 2011.

The sheer volume of deer killed is of concern, both to the supervisors and the county, because an increased deer population could lead to an increased spread of Lyme disease, an infection carried by deer ticks, which are transported by deer.

Though Kocka said their research had not found any direct correlation between the number of deer and the number of ticks, Parrish disagreed, citing a study from Massachusetts that did find a link.

Parrish stressed the need to curb the deer population in Rappahannock, saying that if the density were reduced to 10 to 20 deer per square mile (VDGIF classifies Rappahannock’s deer population as “high,” meaning 30 to 70 per square mile), there simply wouldn’t be enough deer to sustain the ticks.

Parrish said he believed that “weekenders” and other residents who don’t normally allow hunting on their property might be open to the idea if they knew there were links between population and Lyme disease.

“We can’t do it ourselves, but maybe can educate people to do it for their and the good of the herd,” Parrish said.