Supervisors Eye Tax Hike

After meeting on Thursday afteroon to discuss the County budget, the Clarke County Supervisors appeared divided on a proposed two-percent pay raise for County and Public Schools employees as well as a possible two-cent tax hike that could offset costs if a pay raise is approved. The Supervisors also heard news of a new unfunded mandate from Richmond designed to repair the Commonwealth’s ailing retirement system but would cost Clarke County taxpayers an additional $67k per year.

With the County’s budget now on its final track for a planned April 18th approval pending an April 11 public hearing, County lawmakers made last minute budget changes on Thursday designed to reduce a pending budget deficit.

One significant change suggested was a $150K cut to the Clarke County Public Schools operating budget.

Supervisor John Staelin (Millwood) characterized the suggested school funding cut amount as “arbitrary” and an attempt to balance the pain associated with budget cuts across all areas of County spending.  Staelin also expressed reservations about increasing school funding given what he sees as recent and pending flat school census populations.

“The schools have been increasing staff even though they’re expecting the same level of students this year and next year,” Staelin said.

Staelin then led a discussion of County government’s staffing levels which County administrator David Ash said had declined by eight positions in 2011 with an additional three-position reduction in force planned for FY2013. One of the FY2013 cuts, according to Ash, is the County’s real estate assessor.

Clarke County Commissioner of Revenue, Donna Peake, previously held the County’s real estate assessor position before being elected to her current office as Revenue Commissioner. The real estate assessor position had been vacant since Peake’s election.

Supervisor Barbara Byrd (Russell) added that she believes that the County does an excellent job of serving its 14,500 citizens with its approximately 65 full-time employees.

“We don’t have any fluff here” Byrd said.

Much of Thursday night’s discussion appeared aimed at finding a consensus approach for addressing the potential budget deficit facing the County. To address the deficit the Supervisors are must either further reduce County spending levels through additional cuts in County government and Schools or generate more revenue through a tax hike.

Joint Administrative Services director Tom Judge provided the Supervisors with two possible revenue generation scenarios; a $0.015 tax hike which would leave the County with a $554K deficit or a $0.02 tax hike that would reduce the deficit to $447K. The tax rate hike would mean either a 2.4-percent or 3.2-percent increase, respectively, for Clarke County taxpayers.

Neither tax hike option appeared to have the Board’s full support.

“In the end we will still be spending $390K to provide employees with a two-percent pay increase,” said Supervisor David Weiss (Buckmarsh). “That’s just not something that I’m comfortable with.”

Weiss said that the fundamental question is whether public employees should be receiving pay raises when private sector employees are not.

“We’ve asked our County government departments to defer their needs” Weiss added. “In the larger scheme of things this just doesn’t jive.”

No consensus vote was taken on either the tax increase proposition or regarding a pay raise for employees, however, both issues will be addressed at the Supervisor’s next regular meeting on Tuesday when they are expected to finalize the budget prior to April’s public hearing.

Judge also briefed the Supervisors on a recent vote by the General Assembly to address underfunding in the Virginia Retirement System by mandating a locally funded five-percent pay raise for all Virginia-county and school employees that would then be offset by a reduction in the VRS contribution to the employee’s retirement account by the County.

Although the financial slight-of-hand by Richmond theoretically should create a net-zero result for County coffers, Judge said that minor variances in the way that benefits are calculated on the higher gross pay caused by the five percent increase means that the change will effectively cost Clarke County $67K per year.

On an employee level, Judge said that a government or school employee earning $30K annually will see a net reduction in take-home pay of $53.70.

Although the proposed change has yet to be signed by Governor McDonnell, Judge said that there is already discussion in Richmond that the law will be passed along with an amendment to phase the requirement in over five years.

None of the Supervisors voiced support for the approach being proposed by the General Assembly.

“This is another example of the Commonwealth foisting costs unto employees and county governments,” said Supervisor Staelin. “This change has income implications to employees and tax implications for Clarke County taxpayers.”

Staelin characterized the move as an attempt to balance the Virginia Retirement System’s funding problems on the backs of municipalities and employees.

“It’s not a question of the VRS system needing reform,” added Supervisor Weiss. “It’s a question of how you implement the reform.”

The Clarke County Board of Supervisors will meet again on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 1:00pm to hear public comment on the proposed budget.

 

 

Comments

  1. John Staelin says:

    It is important to note that the “cut” I proposed to the FY13 School Board budget is not a cut as compared to current spending. It is a decrease to the School Board’s request for additional funding next year. The School Board asked for an increase of over $1.5 million for school operations beginning in July. That request was an 8% increase.

    $1,028,000 of the School Board’s request for additional operating funds was to come from local tax revenues. That is a 10.3% increase in funding from local tax funds. I suggested that number be cut by $150,000. I called the cut “arbitrary” because I did not want to tell the School Board where to cut its requested increase. I just said its request was a large increase and it should be able to find $150,000 in savings in some part of its $20,574,000 FY13 Operating Budget request.

    • Nice try Johnny.
      The scholol board has its issues but they tortured over that budget and for you to flippantly throw an arbitrary cut into the mix is just demonstrating how out of touch you and the aristocracy wanna-bes really are. Spin all you want. Under the bright light your attempt to portray yourself as fiscal conserverative victim makes you look like the cheapskate mouthpiecee of wealthy landowners. Sell it to someone that will believe it.

      • Mr. Ezra:

        How about showing some respect not just to Mr. Staelin but to society as a whole. It is alright to disagree and to say so but you can do it with a more constructive tone. How else do you expect anyone, let alone the Board to take your comments seriously.

  2. The Shocker says:

    Perhaps we should take a public vote on the teachers and county employees raises. Since the tax increase will essentially be footing the bill for the raise, let the taxpayers decide. There is a large portion of the countries population that is struggling to make do with much less compared to previous years. Hopefully being employed and receiving benefits is good enough in today’s economy……

  3. Stonebroke says:

    Tax Hike? Great…Just what everyone needs in today’s economy! Thanks, we appreciate all your hard work!

  4. Because I Care says:

    Perhaps businesses in the county could take on this tax increase, as well as those with farm and conservation easement property.

  5. luvb-ville says:

    I hate paying more in taxes but I see no other choice. We can’t just keep cutting. To do so will damage our students and hurt our community. Teachers and the other county employees deserve at least a small cost of living adjustment (COLA). With gas and food prices skyrocketing their paychecks don’t go as far as they used to. If you don’t want to pay more in taxes then find another source of revenue. One option might be to allow businesses to move here to help pick up the bill. I realize of course this is blasphemy as it would clearly turn us into Loudoun.

  6. StoneBroke says:

    I hate paying more in taxes as well! I also deserve a COLA–(as well as teachers and county employees) My gas and food prices are skyrocketing also and my check doesn’t go as far as it once did! It is up to the BOS to find other sources of revenue–not me–that is why they are our chosen leaders! If they can’t do the job–then maybe it is time for a replacement! Tired of hearing the Loudoun excuses!

  7. Kenny Gall says:

    Clarke employees follow my lead… I left my position with the sheriff’s office for a 20% raise, affordable quality benefits for myself and my family, regular pay raises and job security… There are better opportunities out there… Let them squabble over the pennies they may or may not give you…

    • Good Luck says:

      If the comment above is really from Kenny Gall and not someone using his name I wish you the best of luck to you. It breaks my heart that you have to leave.

      For the record here is an article that features Mr. Gall:

      http://www.clarkedailynews.com/clarke-county-cops/23561

      This departure is another example of outstanding county employees leaving because our county residents complain about every little cent. It is extremely shortsighted. The people I want paid and happy are the cops and teachers. They understand they will get less money in Clarke in exchange for shorter commutes and other benefits. However, now they are not even getting the slightest bid of respect as well especially in the comments section. It really is the dumbing down of society. Everyone should be ashamed that we are living in a county that runs good folks off all because of a few dollars extra on each tax bill.

      • Kenny Gall says:

        Good Luck, thank you for the kind words..

        I would like to elaborate on this… I want to be clear that I love Clarke County and the people in it. There are very few places left where the citizens still wave to the law enforcement officers that serve them. Clarke was good for me and also to me in so many ways. I know my comments can at time sound as if I’m angry or disgruntled with the citizens of the county and this could not be further from the truth.

        My feeling toward Sheriff Roper and the Sheriff’s Office as a whole are very positive and there are no issues there as well. I feel the pain of the citizens of Clarke when people start talking tax hikes, I understand this is not popular and it will hurt people.. But, the businesses that exist in Clarke only pay $30.00 for licenses instead of based on gross receipts like all other jurisdictions. The folks that can afford the taxes get their land covered in government tax shelters, areas of the county that could have some growth like double toll gate can’t get basic water a sewer to support infrastructure. There are in my opinion ways to generate revenue in Clarke without breaking the backs of the people that carry 90% of the load now..

        I will admit as a Deputy Sheriff these issues are way over my head and pay grade, but a person can only stand by for so long and not get a raise, when other that do the same job get raises in neighboring jurisdictions. One can only have unaffordable health insurance and limited choices for so long before they will look elsewhere. With VRS attempting to take 5% more of my check thus giving me a pay cut instead of a pay raise was just too much.

        • bystander says:

          Mr. Gall

          I wish you well. Several years ago the BOS commissioned a study which focused on how the County could generate revenue. Sadly, it appears the recommendations where largely ignored by the BOS. I challenge the CDN to FOIA this report and publish it. If it does so, the citizens of Clarke County will probably be a little shocked….especially in regards to the SLEAC methodology of valuing land use and conservation easement property. The report is titled Tax Base Enhancement Opportunities for Clarke County Virginia and is dated April 9, 2009. I’m not sure how much was spent on the report but in any event, I would invite readers to cut to the chase and turn to page 34. After reading the report there will be little room for doubt that the BOS’s have mismanaged this county. But then again, when citizens elect some of the largest beneficiaries of the Land Use program, and their lawyer, this is what you get.

    • Kenny Gall –
      Their gain is our loss. No one can blame you for taking care of your own and I wish you best of luck in your new endeavor.

  8. Another View says:

    The County has placed much of the County off limits to development and taxation. The County is adamantly anti-business, and thus does not receive such taxation. The County–having made its choice to limit broad taxation–should live with its choices.

  9. Maybe the county needs to look at the discount you get in taxes on land in conservation easements. One example is the 54.94 acres with 3 DURs valued at $31,600 which should be at least $450,000. The taxes are now $195.92 at .62 per 100 where at full value the taxes would be $2,790 that is a 93% lose in taxes on just one parcel. 15% would be more fair to the rest of the county tax payers and they still get a break for the conservation easement.

    What’s with the $21,833 increase in the parks administration budget? When the talk is no pay raises and cutting county positions.

  10. Springs-B says:

    Most in the private sector have not seen pay raises in years. Federal government employees are on a pay freeze and we want to tax residents to give county employees a pay raise? I have not seen a raise in 5 years because if a tough economy yet the BOS wants to take more money from me to hand out raises? NO NO NO and HELL no. Everyone is tightening their belts, so should county employees. I cannot afford to pay any more in taxes and if they raise taxes again I think it’s time for us all to rise up and rebel against higher taxes in Clarke County… ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!!
    Most are lucky to have a job at all so the raises to county employees needs to be passed on until the economy improves…

    • Tony Parrott says:

      I could buy off on the tough economy means no investing in our county infrastructure or people but even when times were good the BOS didn’t make any investments. So personally I have “NO Confidence” that when things improve they will do the right thing. The message has always been clear to me; cheap.
      It’s important to understand that Clarke’s tax rate is in the bottom percentile when compared to other counties in the state while our medium household income is in the top 50% and better than most. I agree with you on not raising the tax rate in principal; not while the county sits on $15,000,000 in tax payer money.
      As for Mr. Staelin I think he is disingenuous in his remarks because he fails to mention that most of the increase is in benefits costs that are being pushed down from Richmond. He uses the word “arbitrary” not because he doesn’t want to tell them where to cut from but because he doesn’t care where they cut from.

  11. Land Use taxation is the biggest scam out there…if the general population in Clarke would wake up and realize what a free ride those in “land use” get I think people would be sick. The amount of tax breaks given to those in “land use” year after year is borderline “criminal”.

    Of course, the proponents of “land use” will immediately defend the scam with the following line…

    If we removed the massive breaks for “land use” then everyone would sell there land or develop all of their DUR’s and it costs more to support land with houses on it then it does with just land…blah blah blah, blah blah….

    The reality is…not one land owner could develop their land any more under land use than they could today…all of the DUR’s have been set, they already exist. Land use taxation has nothing to do with land development. The whole system is a scam and the BOS continue to support it because the majority of them have received massive tax breaks as a result of participating in “land use” taxation.

  12. supportn Clarke says:

    I agree with Ezra. Our County “leaders” are truly out of touch.

    The BOS needs to support what little underfunded “services” we have in this county. Can’t believe the County Gov’t Departments been asked to “defer their needs” yet again. Let’s face it, the recurring needs are there, the BOS is hoarding $15M of our money (yes, money collected from those of us who actually pay taxes AND care about little things, like children…) And now the “threat” of a tax increase?

    Wondering how much that .02 would affect each of us. For a couple hundred dollars I’d support local schools, fire and rescue, recycling center and ERP (to save lives, plan for the future.. you know, basic “fluff”). More important to us than $65/yr. for a park.

    Those of us who are working to earn a living will miss tomorrow’s meeting (at 1:00 p.m., go figure). I sincerely hope enough County residents can attend and support Clarke- since the BOS seems to have forgotten who they are supposed to be representing.