Proposed school increases would cause 7¢ hike in tax rate
Increases proposed by the Mathews County School Board in its 2017-2018 budget would translate into about a 7 cent hike on the county’s real estate tax rate, county administrator Mindy Conner said Tuesday night.
Conner made that comment during Tuesday night’s joint supervisors/school board dinner meeting at Thomas Hunter Middle School, which was the first opportunity for supervisors to get an in-depth look at what is now the fourth draft of the school board’s $14.17 million proposed budget.
The school board’s proposal calls for the county to contribute $8,131,584 next year, an increase of $679,951 from the $7.45 million county share in the current budget.
Supervisors’ chairman Jack White said that when he first ran for office nearly four years ago, he predicted a fiscal crisis in the county. On the heels of a reassessment that has seen property values drop around 4 percent, or $67 million, “this is what we’re facing right now,” he said.
For the past three years, White said, the county has been operating under fairly austere budgets. As a starting point, the tax rate will have to be adjusted to account for the drop in property values to assure that the county receives the equivalent amount of revenue. White indicated that he’s “very leery of going too far” beyond that equalized rate in this coming year’s budget.
White did express a willingness to work with the school board to come up with a budget that is fair to all concerned. “We are allies, not adversaries,” he said at several points during the hour-long meeting.
Some of the bigger ticket items in the increase over the current operating budget include a 1 percent raise for all employees, plus step on the salary scale ($244,686); increases in Virginia Retirement Service and health insurance payments ($144,703); a new elementary teacher position ($61,841), and a media specialist position for Thomas Hunter Middle School ($62,043).
School board member Jeanice Sadler asked how much the county expects to receive from meals tax revenues. Conner replied that getting the meals tax referendum passed in last year’s election was a huge accomplishment and she thanked the schools for their support of the initiative.
While the meals tax will make a difference for the county in the long term, she said, its impact will not be immediate. Plus, she reminded the two boards, revenues from the meals tax are earmarked for the county’s capital needs, not operating budgets.
White said that the meals tax revenues are projected at $300,000 a year. School board vice chairman Ginger Richards added that “we won’t know (exactly how much the county will receive) until a full year.” The meals tax went into effect countywide on Jan. 1.
School board member John Priest pointed out that there are other county agencies that also have pressing capital needs. “We’re not the only one whose fingers are going to be in it,” he said.
“We’ve been facing the specter of a fiscal meltdown for some time,” supervisor O.J. Cole said. While “the school is our future … we also have to manage the business of the county,” he continued.