The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors, meeting in an Extension Office conference room for a last-minute work session, unanimously approved a $22.7 million fiscal-year 2015-2016 budget Tuesday morning that allows shaving a cent off what had been a 2-cent projected increase in the real estate tax rate.
The overall property tax rate on July 1 thus goes up to 70 cents per $100 of assessed value (that’s a $2,100 tax bill on a property worth $300,000); the 70 cents includes the portion of the overall tax rate that County Administrator John McCarthy has said, since he first presented the draft budget in March, unquestionably had to rise by a cent — that being the fire levy, a 5-cent addition to the basic 65-cent rate for the new year.
The increase accounts for cuts made to the fire levy three years ago which caused reimbursements to volunteer fire and rescue departments and county emergency-services costs to exceed budgeted expenses, and to begin paying for upgrades to the emergency communications system that Rappahannock shares with Fauquier and Culpeper counties, McCarthy said.
This has required dipping into the county’s general fund, also known as its surplus; McCarthy also reminded the supervisors that “any auditor would tell you that your surplus should be at about 10 percent of your budget.” Rappahannock’s is at about 4 percent, he said.
The supervisors had postponed approving the budget and tax rates at their regular June meeting early in the month, after Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier claimed the board had yet to do a “line-by-line” analysis of the budget. After Monday’s vote, Frazier said that “any serious analysis of next year’s budget” — meaning the 2016-2017 budget — should actually start next month.
But Frazier, and the other board members, voted yes on the budget and tax-rate resolutions — all of which followed a brief discussion started by McCarthy of his suggested further cuts to the budget totalling about $28,000 (the largest chunk of which was a new-this-year $12,000 county contribution to the RappCats organization, which rescues and rehabilitates stray cats).
In May, the board voted to cut about $45,000 from a proposed $100,000 increase in the public school division’s budget. All these cuts — combined with McCarthy’s suggestion that the board keep both the recently imposed $20 vehicle license tax as well as the 25-cent increase in the personal-property tax rate passed a year ago (ostensibly to allow the county to eliminate the $20 vehicle fee) — would allow shaving the cent off the rate increase.
Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish also suggested the county eliminate its three-year-old salary supplement for four of its five constitutional officers — the commonwealth’s attorney’s salary being already supplemented in rural jurisdictions by state law. After Parrish amended his motion to allow the supplements to continue — but to pay a state-mandated 2-percent salary increase this year from the supplement rather than add it to the salaries — McCarthy estimated those cuts would amount to about $6,000. The board incorporated the cuts into its budget resolution.
Sperryville resident Tom Junk rose after the meeting was adjourned — it was a work session, and there was no public comment from the 10 or so civilians in the conference room — to tell the supervisors: “Doing what you did today, you feel good — but you’ve done nothing systematically to stem the flow of [county expenses].”
Without the supplement, Rappahannock County’s constitutional officers’ salaries for fiscal-year 2016 are: treasurer, $79,517; commissioner of the revenue, $79,517; sheriff, $85,500; circuit court clerk, $97,211. The commonwealth’s attorney’s salary — set by the general assembly some years ago at the same minimum for a jurisdiction with a population of at least 30,000 — is $138,200. The 2016 salary for the county administrator, who is not a constitutional officer but who’s responsible for the day-to-day operation of the county’s government, is $160,000.