IW proposes $85.8M budget, 4-cent tax increase

Published 11:03 pm Thursday, April 1, 2021

Isle of Wight County’s proposed fiscal year 2021-2022 budget includes a 4-cent real estate tax increase, intended to fund debt payments associated with the Hardy Elementary replacement project.

In October 2020, Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors authorized borrowing just over $34 million to replace the 1960s-era school with a new building capable of housing upwards of 800 students in grades K-4. Construction is set to begin this June and be complete by December 2022.

The county had hoped to be able to hold a voter referendum on increasing its sales tax by 1% instead of the 4-cent real estate tax hike, but a finance subcommittee of Virginia’s House of Delegates tabled legislation on Feb. 16 that would have made Isle of Wight the 10th jurisdiction in Virginia allowed this option for funding school construction projects.

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The proposed operating budget, which County Administrator Randy Keaton presented to the public for the first time at an April 1 Board of Supervisors work session, totals $85.8 million — $6.3 million higher than the current year’s adopted budget.

“This is a far different budget than last year’s budget; if you remember last year we came in with a lot of uncertainty,” Keaton said. “The pandemic had really just started, and we really didn’t know how it was going to impact us from a revenue standpoint.”

Last year, the county had expected a reduction in revenues — most notably in meals and sales taxes — owing to the spread of COVID-19 and associated restrictions on public gatherings. But as people turned to online shopping and takeout orders — with the county still collecting on those purchases, some of the revenue streams the county had expected to lose turned to surpluses that “far exceeded what we even thought possible,” Keaton said.

No taxes other than real estate are proposed to increase for the coming fiscal year, nor are any rate increases planned for the county’s water and sewer rates.

According to Keaton, the 4-cent tax increase will only be needed for nine years to cover not only the new debt for Hardy, but also an additional $33.7 million loan planned for the summer of 2022 to fund the replacement of Westside Elementary with a new middle school capable of housing more than 1,100 students in grades 5-7.

Of the $85.8 million total, the county has budgeted $14.3 million for all current and future debt payments to be made this coming fiscal year, roughly $27.5 million as its contribution to Isle of Wight County Schools’ annual budget, and $12.9 million for public safety.

The proposed budget will fund 15 new full-time staff positions, convert one in the Commissioner of the Revenue’s Office from part-time to full-time, and add one part-time employee to the Department of Parks and Recreation associated with the soon-to-be-completed park-to-park trail. Of the new full-time employees, most are in public safety. Three are new Sheriff’s Office deputies — two patrol officers and one who will work in the county’s courthouse.

A 1% salary increase for current employees, coupled with a $1,000 flat payment, is also budgeted.

The county has also made changes to how six of its seven volunteer fire and rescue departments are funded.

“Due to the uncertainty of fuel prices and the significant discount the county receives on purchases of diesel fuel, we’re proposing a new program to purchase fuel for the volunteer departments and take the current expense for fuel out of their budgets,” Keaton said.

The county’s five-year capital improvements plan remains essentially unchanged at roughly $90 million.

“This is really just taking last year’s CIP and moving it forward a year … there are no new items in this budget,” Keaton said.

The county will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget at 5 p.m. April 15 and has scheduled a vote on its adoption for the budget and CIP for 6 p.m. May 13.