Isle of Wight hears feedback on $94 million budget

Published 5:11 pm Monday, April 24, 2023

Isle of Wight County supervisors heard mixed feedback on April 20 regarding County Administrator Randy Keaton’s proposed $94 million 2023-24 budget, but they aren’t scheduled to vote on it until May 11.

While the total would reflect an increase of $5 million, or 1.2%, over the current $88.9 million budget, it includes a 10-cent reduction to the county’s real estate tax rate ahead of this year’s reassessment of property values.

The 10-cent, or roughly 12%, reduction would cut the current rate of 85 cents per $100 of assessed value to 75 cents, even as higher property reassessments would bring more revenue to the county.

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The 85-cent rate has gone unchanged for the past nine years. According to Keaton, it would be the first decrease Isle of Wight has seen in its real estate tax rate in 16 years.

The April 20 public hearing drew five speakers. Among them were Shelly Perry and Herb De Groft, who balked at the proposed $2.79 million increase in the county’s contribution to Isle of Wight County Schools.

The $30.1 million in local money budgeted for the schools amounts to the single largest component of the budget, at 32% of its total. What’s budgeted equates to a roughly 11% increase over the roughly $27 million the county contributed to its school system for the current year. The $30.1 million is the exact amount Isle of Wight’s School Board voted to request in March after making cuts to a nearly $5 million increase Superintendent Theo Cramer had initially asked for in February.

“The schools want so much,” said Perry, who urged the supervisors to “look hard and long” at which other departments received the entirety of their funding requests.

De Groft called public schools, in general, “the worst waster of public funds.”

Bob Hayes, chairman of the Western Tidewater Free Clinic in Suffolk, also spoke at the hearing to urge the county’s continued funding of the Suffolk-based clinic. It served 289 Isle of Wight residents in 2022, he said.

Even under the reduced real estate tax rate, Isle of Wight is expecting a $3.6 million increase in revenue from the resulting taxes under the new assessed values. As required by state law, Isle of Wight reassesses real estate values every four years, and last did so in 2019.

Keaton, earlier this month, said residential real estate values are projected to rise roughly 25% from the 2019 assessments. Commercial and industrial real estate values are projected to go up 10%, and agricultural land is projected to go up 8%.

Last year, a rate of 1 cent per $100 would have brought in $504,900. This year, a rate of 1 cent per $100 would bring in $618,500, according to Keaton’s draft budget.  

Supervisors voted in February to restore the county’s car tax rate to its 2021 level of $4.50 per $100, a rate Keaton proposes to leave in place for the 2023-24 fiscal year. The supervisors had reduced the rate 13% in 2022 to $3.90 amid a surge in used-car prices, which, according to Commissioner of the Revenue Gerald Gwaltney, have for the most part returned to normal. The restored rate is projected to bring in roughly $600,000 above what the county anticipates receiving in car tax revenues for the current year.