Mon07282014

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Brooks proposes increase to 53¢ in real estate tax

The King George Board of Supervisors last week, on April 6, voted to advertise a possible tax increase for real estate and mobile homes from the current 45 cents to 53 cents per $100 valuation. No other tax rates are proposed to be changed.
Supervisor Cedell Brooks Jr. pushed supervisors to authorize advertisement of 53 cents instead of the equalized rate of 50 cents, as recommended by County Administrator Travis Quesenberry.
Due to new real estate assessments that went into effect Jan. 1, the total assessed value of property in the county was reduced by 6 percent from the previous year.
In order to offset that decrease, a real estate tax rate of 50 cents would be necessary to levy the same amount of real estate tax as last year.  

That 50 cent rate is known as the “equalized tax rate.” And that 50 cent tax rate is the rate recommended by Quesenberry to fund his proposed county budget.
How a new tax rate affects individual taxpayers would depend on how their individual property valuations were affected by the new assessments.
At last week’s meeting on April 6, after hearing from the School Board, Brooks urged increasing the proposed rate to be advertised.
“I would say we would need to propose that we are going to do at least 53 cents and then deal with it later,” Brooks said. “If we don’t have to raise it that much, then that’s fine.  But if we don’t put something more here, we won’t have any cushion at all if we need to look at other obligations we’ve got.”
James Madison Supervisor Joe Grzeika said: “I understand what Mr. Brooks is saying. I am not convinced that we need to raise taxes, but I have no problem with advertisement of that rate.”
Prior to making the motion to advertise the possible rate of 53 cents on the real estate and mobile home tax rate, Brooks reiterated: “I’m not saying that we’re going to raise taxes, but I think we need to do it as a cushion.  Because I think there are some other areas where we can get money from if we had to and not raise taxes, but I think we need to at least advertise it so if we need to use that option, we have it.”
Brooks was referring to the notion of spending down the county’s undesignated reserve, which is currently about $22 million.
The motion to advertise the higher tax rate was seconded by Dahlgren Supervisor James Mullen. Other than seconding the motion, Mullen took no part in the discussion about the potential to raise county taxes and did not state his opinion on raising tax rates.
James Monroe Supervisor John LoBuglio voted against the motion.  
 “I have to say that myself I would not be in favor of that,” LoBuglio said. “I would be in favor of the 50 cents, which though an increase, is the equalized amount.  That is what I hear from my constituents and that is where I am standing.”
At-Large Supervisor and Chairman Dale Sisson also commented, saying: “We just had a joint meeting with the School Board and it seemed to me there was some sentiment around the table that some folks understand that there may be some additional need there. There may not be.”
He added that he didn’t want to spend down county reserves to increase the School Board budget higher than currently proposed.
He stated, “I am not going to be a fan of going into reserves to get that. So if a majority of this board determines that there is some positive adjustment to be made to that $32.8 million figure, we’ve got to understand that to generate that, we’ve got to have a long-term plan and not just look at the reserves. So it may take a couple pennies of that, if it is the will of the board.”  
Raising the tax rate by 3 cents over the equalized rate would be expected to raise about $750,000 in additional county revenue.
Brooks had previously brought up the topic of delving into undesignated reserve funds at a budget work session on March 6, saying, “We’ve come a long way in 20 years. No reason to eat hot dogs when we have steak money.”
Sisson had responded: “I don’t think this is steak money. It took 20 years to build up and you can use it all in a couple of years.”
The amount in the undesignated fund is what convinced Standard & Poor’s (S&P) to give the county a AA financial rating last June.  Fitch Ratings in New York also rates the county’s financial status at A+ for general obligation bonds.  
Those financial ratings directly translate to lower interest rates when the county borrows money for capital projects such as schools and government buildings.
The proposed county budget is balanced with the taxes proposed to be collected at a real estate and mobile home rate of 50 cents per hundred dollars valuation.  
The proposed budget also uses surplus funds leftover from last year to help fund next year’s proposed expenditures, in addition to reduced funding expected from state and federal funds, along with other local revenues.

PUBLIC HEARINGS    
All residents are invited to voice their opinions at next week’s public hearing on the tax rate. The public hearing on the proposal to raise the real estate and mobile home tax rate is scheduled for next Tuesday, April 20, at 6:45 p.m.
The hearing on the proposed county budget is scheduled at the same meeting for 7 p.m.
Both will take place in the board room on the ground floor of the Revercomb Administration building, which is located behind the Courthouse on Route 3 (Kings Hwy).

Phyllis Cook
Staff reporter

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