The Board of Supervisors is facing a “difficult decision” this week in setting the advertised real estate tax rate, County Administrator Jay Stegmaier said.
“We have to be very, very careful about the decisions that are made in the next couple weeks,” Stegmaier said at the budget and audit committee’s Feb. 16 meeting. At that meeting, he said he thought “the proper tax rate to advertise is $1” per $100 of assessed value, which is the revenue-neutral rate for most existing properties.
The supervisors can ultimately adopt any rate up to, but not higher than, the advertised tax rate.
In a Feb. 17 interview, Matoaca District Supervisor Marleen Durfee said the county and school system had yet to finish their internal budget review processes. She also mentioned that the supervisors could call a special meeting and set the advertised tax rate as late as March 3.
“This is the first time that the county is embarking upon systematic changes, including line items, looking at departments, looking at ways of cutting,” Durfee said. She said she would “keep all her options open” regarding the advertised tax rate.
On Monday, Bermuda District Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle said she was leaning toward keeping the advertised real estate tax rate at 95 cents. “I just don’t see changing it as curing what our problems are,” she said.
“Everybody keeps using the phrase ‘revenue neutral,’ and I would support that if it had been a longstanding policy, but it’s not,” she said. The downturn in revenue is reflective of the downturn in the economy, she said, and “we need to budget accordingly.”
The county needs to decide what it can and cannot live without, she said, and make revenue adjustments if necessary. To think that the county can make it through the current recession untouched is “wishful thinking,” Jaeckle said.
“That’s what I think people don’t realize,” she said. “This is the biggest change people will ever see in their lifetime in how we run government.”
At the Feb. 16 meeting, Budget and Management Director Allan Carmody said the combined county and school system operating budget had dropped from $970 million in fiscal 2009 to a projected $850 million in fiscal 2011. To balance next year’s budget, cuts will have to be made to “frontline service areas,” which the county was able to avoid this year, he said. Several such cuts were included in the human services division’s proposed budget cuts, which the committee reviewed at that meeting.
“I’m not comfortable with the level of cuts we’re going to have to make to balance the budget,” Stegmaier said. The county “certainly can cut a lot,” maybe most, of the shortfall, he said, but he’s not comfortable it can cut all of it and maintain levels of service necessary to attract some businesses.
At its Feb. 24 meeting, the board is expected to set public hearings for March 24 on the proposed tax rates, fiscal 2011 budget, fiscal 2011-2015 capital improvement program and fiscal 2011 Community Development Block Grant program, along with other ordinance changes, including those relating to emergency ambulance transport fees, business licenses and utility department fees.
Though the utilities department’s proposed fiscal 2011 budget is 14 percent below this year’s spending plan, more revenue is needed to meet projected longer-term costs, according to a staff report on the matter.
The proposed charges for a typical five-eights-inch residential-size meter with an 18 CCF – or 1,800 cubic feet – combined water and wastewater bi-monthly bill will increase by about $1.29 monthly, the report says. The increase is made up of changes in both the base and commodity charges.
The department is also proposing an increase in connection fees, the report says. The connection fees for a five-eights-inch residential-size meter would jump from $4,025 to $4,400 for water and from $3,140 to $3,455 for wastewater. The fees for larger meters will increase proportionally based on size, the report says.
Budget cuts proposed to Human Services
Along with $940,500 in budget cuts that won’t directly impact programs in the Human Services division, $5.21 million in proposed programmatic cuts were detailed last week at the budget and audit committee’s meeting. The following cuts were among those proposed:
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