Supervisors pass budget without increase after asking Wanner to cut hike

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Interim Isle of Wight County Administrator Sanford “Sandy” Wanner was sent back to the drawing board to craft a variety of budget options designed to cut or eliminate a proposed 3-cent real estate tax increase for fiscal 2017.

Several members of the Board of Supervisors concluded at a May 4 work session that an increase is unacceptable after combing through the budget looking for ways to cut spending.  

Wanner was expected to present options Tuesday night that included no increase, and half-cent increases up to 2-cents. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice and Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree suggested cutting staff — if necessary — to avoid another tax increase.

‘They’re reaching a point where enough is enough,” said Grice about county residents.

The proposed 3-cent increase would bump up the tax rate from 85 to 88 cents per $100 in assessed value. If a 3-cent tax increase were implemented, it would make Isle of Wight the most expensive county in the region.

The real estate tax rate has gone up 33 cents — already more than 50 percent — since fiscal 2011 for a variety of reasons, including the loss of revenue from International Paper, the cost of the Norfolk water deal, other expenses and debt service. 

The latest increase being proposed in the fiscal 2017 budget is due, in part, to plans for a new public safety radio system, a new water line down Route 10, school facility improvements, state mandated teacher raises and the final contribution to state-mandated changes to the Virginia Retirement System.

However, if Isle of Wight hadn’t spent $1.3 million this fiscal year in pay increases due to a salary and compensation study, maybe a tax increase wouldn’t be necessary, Acree said.

The original draft fiscal 2017 budget also called for an additional 2 percent cost of living increase, at a cost of about $320,689, but that was quickly nixed by the Board earlier this month.

One cent on the real estate tax rate is about $327,966.

Other budget considerations

At an earlier worksession, the Board opted to keep the new radio system, at a now estimated cost of $9 million, and not withhold $350,000 from the school system for 10 years to replenish county reserves in the aftermath of the Georgie D. Tyler Middle School Davis-Bacon Act pay scandal.

In all, Isle of Wight pulled $3.5 million out of reserves to cover back pay for workers. Davis–Bacon requires that workers be paid prevailing wages on projects using federal funds.

Instead, it is anticipated those monies will be returned as part of the school’s annual savings at the end of the fiscal year. The Board wanted the schools to receive its full funding request.

In the past five years, the schools had returned an average of $840,000 to the county.

Isle of Wight County schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton said it was reasonable to assume the schools would return between $300,000 and $400,000 at the end of the fiscal year.

Typically, a School Board can request that those funds remain with the schools, and the locality, such as the Board of Supervisors, can decide to return all, or some, of the money back to the schools.

The Board also wanted to honor Isle of Wight Sheriff Mark Marshall’s request for more deputies for the burgeoning Carrollton area, but instead of five, would phase in two at a time beginning in fiscal 2017. Each deputy costs about $73,000, and that includes, salary, fringes, training, uniforms and equipment. The Board also wanted Wanner to fit in two non-profit requests of $1,500 for Riverkeepers and $15,000 for Smart Beginnings.

Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson wanted the contribution increased to Rushmere Volunteer Fire Department from $68,895 to $100,000 so the agency could grow, but could did not provide many details other than it being for operating expenses.

Acree said the county’s seven volunteer fire and rescue agencies submitted flat budgets and those departments might need increases too.

Grice said singling out one department out of seven is “opening Pandora’s box.”  

County Attorney Mark Popovich said funding was part of the facilities use agreement, but the Fire and Rescue Association hasn’t yet addressed that issue.

Rather than the 2 percent cost of living pay raise, the Board decided to absorb health care benefit increases at a cost of about $60,000.

Jefferson took issue with cutting staff.

Before staff reductions are considered, there needs to analysis done and justification made, he said.

Newport District Supervisor William McCarty said the budget, and proposed tax increase, was causing difficult conversations.

“We’re dealing with people’s lives and these are difficult conversations,” he said.

Chairman Rex Alphin asked if the request for various budget options was unreasonable.

“It will be difficult, but I’ll give it a try. That’s what I’ve been paid to do,” he said.  {/mprestriction}

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