No tax rate increases in proposed IW 2022-23 budget

Published 1:36 pm Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Isle of Wight County plans to leave its car tax at the new, lowered rate of $3.90 per $100 in value, and leave all tax rates unchanged, come the start of the 2022-23 fiscal year on July 1.

Residents on the county’s water system, however, can expect to see a 56-cent increase in the price per 1,000 gallons.

County Administrator Randy Keaton proposed a general fund budget of $88.9 million on April 7 — a roughly 4.7% increase over the $84.2 million budgeted for the current year.

The change in the water rate, Keaton said, should amount to a 3.9% increase for the typical household that uses 5,000 gallons per month.

Keaton is also proposing to raise Isle of Wight’s water connection fee from $4,000 to $4,500, and its sewer fee from $3,700 to $4,000. The fee increases, he said, are intended to make new housing developments on the county’s northern end “more completely pay for their share” of water and sewer infrastructure improvements the county has made over the past few years.

In 2021, county staff had anticipated a 4-cent real estate tax increase would be needed, starting this year, to replace Hardy and Westside elementary schools — unless the state legislature reconsidered allowing the county to pay for the schools by raising its sales tax 1% instead.

The Board of Supervisors borrowed roughly $34 million in 2020, intending to put $27 million toward the Hardy project, and had planned to borrow an additional $30 million-plus this year for Westside. When the price for Hardy alone came back at $36.8 million, the supervisors postponed replacing Westside and instead borrowed an additional $12 million to complete the Hardy project.

Though the General Assembly again tabled the proposed sales tax legislation earlier this year, reducing the county’s borrowing from $30 million to $12 million has lowered the county’s projected debt service payments to a point where it can hold off on the 4-cent tax increase, Keaton said.

As such, the county’s real estate tax will remain at 85 cents per $100 of assessed value for the ninth consecutive year.

Isle of Wight took in just over $40 million from 2021 real estate taxes, and by leaving the 85-cent rate unchanged, expects to see a $1.1 million increase from new construction and an estimated 2.5% change in assessed values. Revenue from car taxes, budgeted to reach $11 million by June 30, is projected to increase by $2.5 million next fiscal year, despite the lowered rate, due to 2021’s estimated 59% rise in the value of used vehicles.

The proposed 2022-23 budget includes $27.2 million in local funding for Isle of Wight County Schools. The nearly $527,000 increase over the county’s current local contribution is intended to fund several testing coordinator positions, which school officials say will free up guidance counselors to spend less time proctoring Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests and more time counseling students.

Keaton’s budget, however, does not include the school system’s requested funding to place school resource officers in each of its nine schools.

Currently there are four sheriff’s deputies serving as SROs — one in each of the county’s two high schools and two middle schools. Patrol deputies also routinely visit the county’s five elementary schools, but aren’t stationed there every day. All SROs are presently funded as part of the Sheriff’s Office’s budget.

Under an agreement IWCS Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton and Sheriff James Clarke Jr. proposed earlier this year, IWCS was to take over funding the salaries, benefits, uniforms and equipment of the four existing SROs — plus the cost of hiring five more — during the 10 months those officers would be stationed in each of the county’s schools. The Sheriff’s Office would cover the cost of the officers’ vehicles and the cost of salaries, benefits, uniforms and equipment during the two summer months school isn’t in session.

But instead of deducting the cost of the four existing SROs from the sheriff’s budget and reallocating those funds to IWCS, Keaton’s budget increases the sheriff’s budget by roughly $100,000.

The additional funds, Keaton said, are intended for the hiring of four new deputies, one of which would be an SRO.

According to Keaton, state funding initially proposed by the General Assembly to cover a significant portion of the costs of the elementary school SROs didn’t materialize. The four deputy positions, he said, will instead allow for more periodic patrols at the elementary schools.

“During our meeting with the School Board, it was agreed to focus on the increase for testing coordinators and to fund the four deputy positions without specifically funding SRO positions,” Keaton said.

In addition to the four deputies, Keaton’s proposed budget includes funding for seven new county employees and converting one part-time position to full-time.

The budget also includes $32.9 million in funding for capital projects.

The figure includes the additional $12 million borrowed for Hardy, where construction is already underway, and $11.1 million in county-administered transportation projects. There’s also $2.6 million allocated for fire and rescue needs, and $5.5 million in utilities projects.

The county has scheduled an April 21 public hearing on the proposed budget. Adoption of the proposed operating and capital budgets is set for May 12.