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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

Tax, fee hikes approved by board
Real estate tax rate will rise only 1 cent

Friday, April 25, 2014

By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer

After a lengthy discussion and two votes, the Franklin County Board of Supervisors adopted a budget Tuesday night for fiscal year 2014-15 that includes tax and fee hikes.

The only change from the proposed budget that had been advertised and discussed in a public hearing last week was an increase of only 1 cent, rather than 2 cents, on the real estate tax, bringing it from the current 54 cents on each $100 of assessed value to 55 cents.

The 2-cent increase in the personal property tax was left intact as well as the increase in the vehicle license fee from $25 to $34.25.

The 1-cent real estate tax increase will add about $16 a year to the bill on a house assessed at $164,000, which is the county average. The personal property tax increase will add $4 a year on two cars, for example, with a total assessed value of $20,000. The increase in the vehicle license fee would cost another $18.50 a year for the two vehicles. The total increase using these figures would be almost $40 a year.

All told, this will raise about $1.2 million in extra revenue next year, but that's about $600,000 less than what is needed for the county and schools to cover projected shortfalls totaling around $900,000.

Those shortfalls are driven by state mandates and rising costs for services and programs.

County Administrator Rick Huff told the board that even with the increased revenue, the county will be about $255,000 short and the school system will need to come up with or cut about $380,000 from its budget.

The board was split on the proposed increases from the beginning.

Gills Creek District Supervisor Bob Camicia initially made a motion to approve all of the advertised tax increases, including the 2-cent hike in the real estate tax, which would have raised about $1.8 million.

Camicia said putting off raising the needed revenue will only worsen the problem down the road.

Blue Ridge District Supervisor Bobby Thompson agreed, saying the money is needed, the county cannot move backwards and not approving all of the increases this year will simply make next year even tougher.

However, when Camicia's motion came to a vote, only he, Thompson and board Chairman David Cundiff voted for it.

The other four supervisors voted against it.

Another motion was made by Rocky Mount District Supervisor Charles Wagner. This one, which passed 4-3, was to keep all of the proposed tax and fee hikes except the 2-cent real estate tax increase, which was lowered to a penny.

Wagner, Snow Creek District Supervisor Leland Mitchell, Blackwater District Supervisor Cline Brubaker and Cundiff voted for the motion while Camicia,Thompson and Boones Mill District Supervisor Ronnie Thompson voted against it.

Ronnie Thompson said he was against any tax increase but would support the vehicle license fee hike.

Wagner's motion also included wording related to how the county and schools could handle their shortfalls.

Huff had already prepared a list of cuts and one-time spending from the county's fund balance to make up the $255,000. About $170,000 of that shortfall will come from the county's fund balance for one-time expenses.

Bobby Thompson reminded the board during the discussions that while Huff had a plan to make up the $255,000 shortfall on the county's side, the school system faced an even greater shortfall.

At that point, Mitchell made the suggestion to basically take away the school system's contingency fund, which is projected to total more than $500,000, and move it into the county's coffers.

Then the school board could request some of the money, which may be used to offset the schools' $380,000 shortfall.

The contingency fund had been granted to the school system as a way to help the schools handle any emergency expenditure quickly without coming before the board to request the money.

Thompson said a better way to handle the schools' shortfall would be allow them to keep the contingency fund and use some of the money set aside from the vehicle license fee hike for future debt reserve.

The increase in that fee will raise about $500,000, all of which will be set aside to help pay for future major projects, like the new career and technical education center.

"It doesn't make any sense to set aside money now for projects in the future when we can't even afford to maintain what we already have," Thompson said.

Dr. Mark Church, superintendent of Franklin County schools, said the school system is looking at ways to handle the shortfall.

"We could buy a few less school buses," he said, "or we could use the carryover funding."

But Church said the schools' issues are reoccurring expenses and that's why using carryover funding for that is not preferred.

Church also said that money needed for mandates goes directly to programs to help students.

Church said comments have been made related to whether the schools actually have to follow the state mandates, but not doing so would be depriving children of badly needed programs.

"But we really are a lot more short financially," he said. "It's not just mandates, it's other initiatives we need to do."

School Board Chairman Sarah Alexander said schools have already been hurt by a lack of funding.

"While I realize that Franklin County continues to deal with less than a robust economic recovery, it remains of paramount importance that the future of education in Franklin County Public Schools not be further compromised," she said. "The budget that was passed Tuesday evening does not provide funds to restore many positions we have lost, nor does it allow us to proceed with many initiatives identified by the School Board as important to the students we serve. Education is the foundation of everything, and it has the greatest impact on the economic health and prosperity of our county."

Alexander praised school employees for their work.

"We are fortunate that the employees in our schools remain committed to the success of every student, but the reality facing us is that we can and must provide more educational opportunities that allow our graduates to be work-force ready, and our drop-out rate must decline," she said. "The focus of FCPS is all about helping each child reach their full potential, and that requires a dedicated, muti-faceted approach, not only by school staff, but by the county leaders as well. It seems clear that we all win when we set our sights on improving the future for our children."

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