Gloucester’s budget adopted; boat tax repealed
After a month and a half of deliberations and hearing from the public and county department heads in a variety of settings, the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors voted 6-1 Thursday night to adopt the county’s $114 million budget.
In doing so, the board did not fund the $1.3 million in additional local transfer requested by the Gloucester County School Board to open Page Middle School, but did repeal the boat tax, which caused a revenue loss of $438,000 in the budget.
The budget was adopted on an equalized real estate tax rate of 68 cents per $100 of assessed value. Though that is a three-cent increase from the current tax rate, many property owners in the county saw their property values decrease after the latest reassessment, which became effective in January. All other tax rates remained the same, with the exception of a 1 percent increase in the lodging tax, which would bring in $32,500 of additional revenue to the county.
Gloucester Point district supervisor Chris Hutson, who cast the lone vote against adopting the proposed budget, said he was upset that the board did not discuss ways it could help offset some of the school system’s expense in opening the new school. “I would like to have seen more money for the schools to go toward the opening of Page Middle School,” Hutson said. “It’s something we should have looked at and we haven’t looked at that.”
He went on to say that he hopes the repeal of the boat tax works for the county. “We’re coming in last,” referring to the other nearby localities that have had their boat taxes eliminated for some time. “I hope the boats come over here,” he said.
The majority of supervisors supported eliminating the boat tax after hearing presentations by a number of marine and other business owners in the county who claimed that the repeal of the tax would bring larger vessels and owners that would spend more money in the community over time.
Abingdon district supervisor J.J. Orth admitted that he had thought a lot about repealing the boat tax. “We’re giving up a significant amount of income and we don’t know how quickly it will be recovered,” Orth said.
Ware district supervisor Andy James echoed Orth saying, “I’ve set on the fence on this for a right good while, but I’m willing to give it a try.”
The board also decided not to give 2 percent pay increases to county employees, which was originally included in the county administrator’s proposed budget, at a savings of just over $300,000. Instead, it decided to use fund balance to pay for the county’s portion of employees’ health insurance premium increase, at a cost of nearly $424,000.
“This is a jobs budget,” said at-large supervisor John Meyer Jr. He said county employees are keeping their jobs, and though the county couldn’t give pay increases to county and school employees, he remains hopeful that fiscal year 2017 will show more assurance that the local economy will be able to sustain salary increases.
“We were also able to hold the tax rate at 68 cents,” Meyer added, “which is an unwritten contract, if you will, with many members of the community; causing no additional burden on the taxpayers.”