Of Death and Taxes

Of Death and Taxes

Property taxes, retirement costs and life insurance figure heavily in proposed town budget.

<bt>The town manager’s office was challenged with writing a proposed budget for 2006-07 with only an estimate of what the town’s revenues from the state will be — as the General Assembly has not yet adopted a budget — and in the face of continued rising property tax assessments. Revenue from the state generally makes up about 10 percent of General Fund revenues. The average residential assessment jumped by just over 20 percent since 2005.

In his budget summary, Town Manager John Schoeberlein noted that one positive development in the town’s property assessments is that, for the first time in six years, commercial assessments increased at a rate comparable to the increase in residential assessments. The commercial sector is assessed at about 16 percent more than in 2005 and held on to its 80 percent share of the town’s total assessed value. Schoeberlein said this testifies to the continued vitality of the commercial core of the town.

To offset the jump in assessments, the proposed budget again lowers the town’s property tax rate. Last year, the rate was lowered by almost 17 percent, resulting in a slight decrease in property tax payment to the town for the average household. The 2006-07 budget proposes to lower the tax rate by another 15 percent, from 22 cents per $100 of assessed value to 18.62 cents per $100, resulting in an increase in actual property tax payment to the town slight enough that it does not qualify legally as an increase.

Tax payment on a home assessed at $438,710 — the estimated median value — will increase by $16.97.

A household’s water and sewer payments to the town, based on the quarterly usage of 19,000 gallons, will increase by $15.20, for a net increase of $32.17 in payments to the town for the average household.

THE LARGEST SINGLE cost increase to the town for the coming year will be an additional $429,481 in payments to the Virginia Retirement System for retirement costs and life insurance for the town’s employees. Life insurance payments have not been necessary in the last four years, and now a payment of $119,088 will be required.

Because retirement costs have been increasing, the town has attempted to keep its workforce steady. In the last five years, the equivalent of less than eight full-time employees has been added. In the coming year, one part-time position in Planning and Zoning will become full-time, and two part-time positions in Parks and Recreation will have benefits added. In the police department, a records clerk position will be dropped and a dispatcher added.

The department that will see the largest budget increase, in terms of dollar amount, is Public Works, which is already the department with the largest budget. The number of tax dollars going to Public Works will increase from $5,617,691 to $6,012,651, an increase of $394,960 or about 7 percent. Most of this is due to the increase in personnel-related costs. The budget for gasoline and diesel fuel has increased by $50,000 and that for landfill fees by $11,000, due to rising prices.

The department with the highest percentage increase in budget is Planning and Zoning, at 15.3 percent, or $87,645. This is due to the change of one inspector position from part-time to full-time and an increase of $27,000 in consulting services for the department’s Geographic Information System mapping program.

The proposed total budget for the town represents an increase of $2,056,772, or about 7.9 percent, from an adjusted budget this year of $25,994,540 to $28,051,312 for the coming year.

A public hearing on the proposed town budget is scheduled for the Town Council meeting Monday, May 8. Copies of the proposed budget are available for review at Town Hall and at Patrick Henry Library. Call 703-255-6350 to obtain a "Budget in Brief" summary free of charge or to purchase the entire budget document.

<1b>— Mike DiCicco