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No tax increases planned in Stafford

Stafford County’s proposed budget would give boat owners some tax relief and bump up pay a little for teachers and other school employees.

But most residents probably won’t notice much difference from last year’s budget, since Stafford’s real estate tax would stay the same.

The proposed budget was presented to the Stafford Board of Supervisors Tuesday by County Administrator Anthony Romanello.

Under the proposal, the county’s school division would get enough money to fund a 2 percent raise for teachers. But overall, the school system would get $13 million less than School Board members requested.

In the budget, Romanello also proposes:

Eliminating Stafford’s boat tax, which brings about $500,000 annually to the county’s coffers. Marina owners and other boat enthusiasts lobbied the Board of Supervisors to abolish the tax, arguing that boat owners head north to dock their crafts in cheaper waters of localities with lower or no boat taxes.

Making Sheriff’s Office volunteers exempt from personal property taxes.

Keeping all other county taxes and fees the same.

The proposed budget would total $253 million, which is about $5 million more than last year. Most of the additional money would come from projected increases in real estate and personal property tax collections, which would come from new development.

The budget proposal does include a 2 percent raise for county employees, but that money would come from the funds Stafford would save by increasing employees’ share of health insurance.

For the average county employee, the raise would be equal to the higher cost of insurance, said Maria Perrotte, Stafford’s chief financial officer.

The county would give the school district enough money to fund its share of the 2 percent raises the General Assembly just voted to provide for teachers and other school employees. But the county would not offer enough money for the step increase and higher across-the-board raises School Board members hoped to give employees.

Supervisor Paul Milde referred to the school employee raises as “the looming question” over the proposed budget.

Most supervisors referred to last year’s budget, when supervisors gave the schools an additional $5 million, assuming that would cover teacher raises.

Milde asked if the county could give the school division money and stipulate that it be used for raises.

“They’re making choices that impact their ability to give raises,” he said. “I’d be pleasantly surprised if they are able to give raises and build a brand new high school.”

The proposed budget provides school employees enough money to increase their Virginia Retirement System contributions by 1 percent. Within the next four years, school employees must contribute 5 percent of their income to VRS, and the school division must give them a raise equal to that amount. Stafford is providing that money in increments each year.

Stafford’s School Board voted last week to ask supervisors for $15 million more in operating funds. Romanello’s proposed budget offers the schools about $4 million more, but that includes money for things like debt service, as well as operating expenses.

The proposal actually includes only about $2.3 million more in operating expenses—and about half that would be to keep more special-education students in the county instead of sending them to private placements.

The School Board’s approved budget calls for an increase of $18 million to pay for teacher raises and additional positions, some of which would be required to meet federal special education requirements.

Supervisor Ty Scheiber said the School Board would present its budget to the supervisors on March 19. “We owe them a full hearing, to make sure we understand,” he said. “It’s a big number, I get it, but let’s hear them out first.”

Supervisor Susan Stimpson said that it would be hard to fill the school division’s request without a tax hike. “If we give them the $18 million, we’d have to raise it,” she said. “Unless you want to cut $18 million out of fire and rescue.”

Amy Umble: 540/735-1973

aumble@freelancestar.com

WHAT'S NEXT

The tentative budget calendar for Stafford County includes:

•April 9: A public hearing on the budget, held in the board chambers, giving county residents the chance to weigh in.

•April 23: Supervisors will vote to adopt a budget and a tax rate.

BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS

  • Real estate tax rate remains the same as last year
  • Boat tax is eliminated, getting rid of $500,000 in revenue
  • Sheriff’s Office volunteers get exemption from personal property taxes
  • Gives $4.2 million more to the schools than last year’s budget
  • Includes four new positions—jobs in parks and recreation, social services and for a new computer dispatch system
  • Also pays for nine public-safety positions now funded through federal grants
  • Is $5.39 million more than last year’s budget, which is a 2.2 percent increase
  • Gives county employees a 2 percent raise, starting in April 2014, when employees would have to pay more for health insurance

 

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