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Isle of Wight approves $74.28M budget

Real estate tax staying level; water up by 5 percent

ISLE OF WIGHT

Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Thursday to approve its proposed fiscal year 2018-2019 operating budget and its 2019-2028 capital improvements program.

The budget for the county’s general fund totals $74,281,150, out of which the largest expense is funding the county’s schools. Isle of Wight County Schools has requested and been approved to receive $26.4 million in local funds, which amounts to an increase of $994,300 in local funds over last year’s budget.

County Administrator Randy Keaton highlighted that for the fifth year in a row there will be no increase in the county’s real estate tax rate of 85 cents per $100 of assessed value or to the personal property tax rate of $4.50 per $100. The county’s machinery and tools tax rate will also decrease from its current rate of $4.24 per $100 to $1.75 per $100. However, water and sewer rates will increase by 5 percent.

One point of contention that had been brought to the attention of the board during its public hearing on April 19 was a change in the way the county will fund its volunteer fire departments.

Keaton explained that the county funds its volunteer fire departments via a state grant known as Aid to Localities or ATL. In the past, this grant had been divided equally among the county’s five VFDs. However, this year the ATL funds will remain under the county’s control and be used to purchase equipment needed by multiple departments in bulk.

Keaton said that this change was implemented to make it easier for the county to comply with an audit by the state should one occur. He explained that in 2015, the state changed its laws to require more detailed information from volunteer fire departments during an audit such as bank statements and any cancelled checks.

“We have all the financial records so if the state says show us your records we have it all right there,” Keaton said. “It’s made the process a lot more streamlined.”

He added that despite the money remaining in the hands of the county, each VFD was allocated enough funding to cover all equipment-related expenses it had submitted for the year. Further, some departments were allocated more money than they would have received were the ATL to be divided evenly thanks to an additional $35,000 the county contributed from local funds. Also, instead of equipment now being bought in bulk, some of it will still be able to be customized for the various departments.

“If one wanted a black coat and one wanted a yellow coat, we can still do that,” Keaton said.

Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree said that he had been prepared to make a motion to return the ATL funding to the VFDs as it had been allocated in the past following his conversations with several county fire chiefs. However, after Keaton further explained why the funding change had been made, Acree ultimately agreed that the new funding method was better for both the county and the volunteer departments and voted for the budget as presented.

The board had also previously discussed changing the way it funded fire and rescue vehicle repairs. The first draft of the budget had specified that each volunteer department would receive an annual amount of money per vehicle for preventative maintenance and small repairs, but that any repair expenses over $250 would need to be sent to the county for payment. However, after receiving negative feedback from volunteers during its public hearing on April 19, the board opted to do away with this proposal and budget for vehicle repairs the same as it had done in the past.

The Capital Improvements Program specifies a budget of $7.7 million. Capital expenditures include HVAC upgrades at Smithfield High School, roof repairs and the addition of classroom trailers at Westside Elementary School, transportation improvements and construction of a new Route 10 water line. A portion of the capital budget also provides continued support for the county’s volunteer fire and rescue departments.