Proposed tax rate rise is 5 cents

The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors was presented with a $22.1 million proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 at its regular monthly meeting Monday (April 2). The budget, which County Administrator John McCarthy said might be affected by changes made at the state level but likely not in a signficant way, also proposes a real estate tax rate of 63 cents per $100 of assessed value – a 5-cent increase from the current rate of 58 cents.

The budget will be the subject of a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 30 at the Rappahannock County High School auditorium. It is likely to draw more attendees and comments than last year’s budget hearing, which – coming at the end of a five-year stretch without increases in either the county school budget’s local-funding level or in the county’s property tax rate – lasted 34 minutes.

“As has been my practice when a new school board majority takes office,” McCarthy said in his draft budget document to the supervisors, “I have showed full funding for their requested appropriation.”

The proposed school portion of the county’s budget, which includes significant mandated increases in funding for school employee pension and health-insurance contributions as well as a 3-percent across-the-board salary increase, would account for roughly 3 cents of the 5-cent increase in property taxes, McCarthy said.

“Another penny of that 5-cent increase is for increased social services costs,” McCarthy said by phone on Tuesday, “and the remainder is for proposed county-employee salary increases.”

A 5-cent increase in the property tax rate, for a property assessed at $400,000, would mean a $200 rise in next year’s tax bill.

McCarthy said the supervisors might decide to meet for a budget work session following the April 30 public hearing; their next scheduled regular meeting is May 7, at which they’ll be expected to approve the FY2013 budget. As he wrote in his draft-budget memo to the supervisors: “I fully expect that the board will reduce this proposed rate and that it will select from these priorities those that are essential in the coming year and winnow away those that must await another day.”

At Monday’s meeting, school superintendent Aldridge Boone announced that there will be a dedication ceremony for the elementary school’s new playground at 2 p.m. Tuesday (April 10) at the school, to honor the donors and volunteers that helped to bring the kids a much-needed playground.

There is also a monthly school board meeting that evening at 6:30, he noted. Boone also reported that the Headwaters “Cool School” after-school program wound up last week (the schools are on spring break this week), and that Headwaters is at work on a budget that would enable the program to restart in September.

Public comment

Mike Cioffi of the Stonewall-Hawthorne district proposed an idea he’d come up with after hearing – at the school board’s public hearing on its 2012-2013 proposed budget – such residents as Bill Dietl, Ken Thompson and Amy Burnett volunteer to pay more taxes to provide the necessary funding to retain teachers and improve the quality of education at the county’s public schools. He said theirs was “an honorable notion,” and encouraged the supervisors to include a form for residents to sign that would enable them to pay more taxes to support the public schools, if they so wished.

Jeffrey Knight of the Hampton district said that he’s witnessed a knee-jerk reaction in the county based on the idea that more spending means more success in schools. He then read an excerpt from a Forbes article comparing spending in specific school districts to the quality of education in those districts, the conclusion being that more spending did not mean more success. “Too often it’s easy to throw money at an issue,” Knight said, noting that “losers are schools that spend a lot of money and don’t have a lot to show for it.”

Voting station changed

The board approved a motion to move the Stonewall-Hawthorne voting station to the Castleton fire hall. Stonewall-Hawthorne district supervisor Chris Parrish justified the move because the location is more central in the district, there is more parking and each of the other voting stations in the county are located in fire halls.

Regional jail loan approved

The board also voted its agreement that the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail Authority should borrow $33 million (in the short term) to $65 million (long-term) through the Virginia Resources Authority (VRA), a loan that would cover the projected $85 million cost to build and begin to operate the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Jail just north of Front Royal.

Similar approvals were necessary in Shenandoah and Warren counties to authorize the borrowing by the regional jail authority, expected to award bids later this month for construction of a 375-bed jail scheduled to open to inmates in July 2014. The state has committed to funding about half the cost of the jail; but in Shenandoah County, though supervisors there committed to the project almost a year ago as did their counterparts in Rappahannock, significant recent public opposition to the project has led some to call for elections to recall some supervisors.

Though he doubts the project would stall, McCarthy said that with what is currently a 9- to 10-percent share of the project’s costs (based on projected inmate population), Rappahannock County is “on the hook, proportionally,” for the roughly $4 million that has already been spent on property acquisition, engineering and architectural work, utility work and financial consulting.

“One problem is that all three bodies entered a service agreement last year, and agreed that the only way anyone gets out is if the other two agree to let them out,” McCarthy said. “Let’s just say this: Bad things happen if anyone says they want to get out now.”

Ted Cole, senior vice president of public finance for Davenport and Associates, told the board Monday that contract bids for the project are due by April 12. Cole has been leading the county through the process of acquiring short-term, interim and long-term financing for the RSW Regional Jail, which will replace the Rappahannock Jail for county inmates. Once the project is completed, the three member counties will send their prisoners to the regional jail, and pay per-day costs to house them.

School improvements

The board approved a resolution to pursue school window replacement contract bids, which they had turned down last month, to seek the lowest previous bid. The resolution passed by a 4-1 margin, with Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier dissenting.

Frazier recommended that the board conduct more research on the window replacement designs for efficiency’s sake. McCarthy disagreed, saying that a significant amount of research had been conducted in the past month since the bids were rejected, and that the time to act was now, since future costs could not be predicted.

“To delay this would be to gamble with the taxpayer’s money,” Parrish said.

“I don’t want to see this project going on during school,” said Bryant Lee, noting that there is only a small window during the summer to finish the job, so awarding a bid promptly was important.