No tax hike

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Marsha Vass, fifth-grade teacher at Willis Elementary, outlines her support for the proposed school budget increase and a tax hike.

As happens so often in government, the decision that came out of the Floyd County Board of Supervisors Tuesday was a compromise that resolved some problems, created others and left many unsatisfied.

After an overflow crowd of parents, grandparents, school officials, deputy sheriffs and students spilled out into adjoining rooms and hallways and 33 of 35 speakers urged the board to give the school board what it wants for the upcoming fiscal year — even if it means a tax hike — the board decided by consensus to hold the line on taxes, give the school board about 10 percent of the extra money it wanted, and restored some programs trimmed in earlier budget sessions.

Supervisors restored a $105,000 cut from the school board’s current budget allocation and added another $173,000 in new funding — an amount far short of the $2.2 million increase requested by the board and a final figure that will send the educational system back into budget work sessions to figure out what to cut and how to re-allocate funds to keep as many programs and teachers as possible.

Sheriff Shannon Zeman got his employee incentive program back and Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Shortt will keep her part-time assistant prosecutor, but the supervisors drained its reserve account to meet some — but not all — of the requested budget hikes and a property tax increase, while put off for another year, becomes more of a eventuality when the next budget comes up for consideration.

In all, the county expects to spend $30.7 million for the new fiscal year that begins July 1 and the school system will account for $20.5 million of that.

“We’re going to have to raise taxes next year,” Board Chairman Case Clinger told the board after a motion by Locust Grove Supervisor Lauren Yoder to raise the tax rate by two cents failed when it didn’t get a second.

“I think we can and should consider (a tax hike) this year,” Yoder said, adding that his motion reflected a concern about the dangers of wiping out the county’s reserve fund to come up with some of the increases for this year’s budget.

Without the reserve money, the county may have to depend more on a $1.8 million line of credit that helps cover cash shortfalls during the year.

While the board appears to have resolved its role in funding for county schools, which also depends on state money that is still pending, debate over the level approved Tuesday is expected to continue and could dominate a as-yet unscheduled public hearing that the board will set at its meeting on April 22.

However, under Virginia law, once a local board of supervisors sets the tax rate, it cannot raise that rate until a new budget is considered next year.  A proposed tax increase can be lowered later in the process but rates cannot be increased.

Some supervisors say that while public comments at meetings of both the school board and supervisors have overwhelmingly supported an increase in funding and a tax hike to pay for it, comments they have received from constituents overall oppose both a tax increase or a large increase of a school budget that, overall, accounts for two-thirds of the county’s annual spending.

Details of the long, sometimes raucous, meeting is on the Floyd Press web site and more will follow here soon.

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Part of the overflow crowd at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

 

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