Council rejects tax rate increase

The Warren Sentinel

FRONT ROYAL ó The town real-estate tax rate wonít increase for fiscal 2016-17.

As it did last month, Council voted down a motion to increase the rate to 14 cents per $100 of assessed value and voted in favor of keeping the current 13-cent rate.

This time, however, council had the supermajority needed to approve a tax rate.

The proposed penny increase would have generated about $125,000 in revenue that would have been earmarked for the new police station. Instead, the council will look to cut costs for the coming fiscal year by trimming fat from the proposed 2016-17 budget.

"There's a lot of fat in that budget," Councilman Eugene Tewalt said.

Town Manager Steven Burke recently proposed a $45.8 million spending plan for fiscal year 2016-17 that includes about $13.9 million in the townís general fund, an increase of about $595,000 from last year. The remainder of the spending is allocated to the electric, water, sewer and solid waste funds, which are funded through residentsí utility bills.

It includes about $13 million in spending for personnel, which includes a $1 per hour raise for all town employees and a 10-percent increase in the cost of their health insurance.

The proposed budget was based on the current tax rate and Burke did not recommend an increase.

Tewalt voted in the minority supporting the one-cent tax rate increase on March 14 and again Monday. He opposed a motion to keep the current rate last month, but voted in favor of it Monday.

"We've got to get this thing approved," he said, noting that tax bills will go out in a matter of weeks.

Tewalt said he preferred to start putting more money toward the police station, estimated at $8 million. The project already receives 1 cents of the 13-cent levy.

When questioned by Councilwoman Bebhinn Egger, Burke said that previous tax increases had not yet generated enough money to cover the cost of cheaper police-station options that were presented, but would not meet expected future police needs.

Tewalt expressed hope that council would consider making some cuts elsewhere in the budget to provide more money for the police station.

Councilman Jacob Meza agreed that if there is money available, it should be set aside for the police station, but that money could be found through budget cuts rather that a tax increase. He noted that personnel was one of the major expenditures in the proposed spending plan.

"I'm not going to be around to do what you're going to have to do, which is raise taxes," said Councilman Bret Hrbek, who is not seeking re-election to Council.

He said council should be putting money away for the police project a little at a time. Failing to do that will result in the need for a large increase later, he said.

Hrbek voted in favor of the increase and against maintaining the current rate Monday. He was absent March 14.

He noted that the penny increase would cost the average taxpayer about $25 more per year.

"I don't think that's too much," he said.

The motion to increase the tax was defeated Monday on a 4-2 vote. A follow-up motion to keep the current rate passed 5-1, with Hrbek voting against it. On March 14, Council also rejected the increase and voted in favor of the current rate on a 3-2 vote. However, the motion failed because votes on tax rates require a supermajority of four council members in favor.

Council must approve the rate a second time for it to be adopted. Council will meet for a work session at 7 p.m. Monday in the Town Administration Building, 102 E. Main St. The next regular meeting is scheduled for 7p.m. April 24 at the Warren County Government Center.

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