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Public gets to weigh in on tax hikes, budgets

Halifax County Supervisors are scheduled to hold several public hearings tonight when they meet in Halifax including hearings on the 2014 reassessment that prompts a 1-cent hike in the real estate tax rate and on the $87.9 million proposed 2014-15 county budget that includes the school budget.

The public hearing on the 2014 reassessment that necessitates a proposed 1-cent hike in the real estate tax rate will get underway at 5:30 p.m. in the Mary Bethune Office Complex in Halifax.

This public hearing had to be rescheduled from last Monday night due to inclement weather.

During the hearing, supervisors will receive comments on the revenue neutral tax rate increase occurring due to a drop in the assessed value of county real estate.

The assessment decrease is resulting in a proposed penny increase in the real estate tax rate from 45 cents to 46 cents.

According to County Administrator Jim Halasz, total assessed value of real property is less than last year’s total assessed value of real property by 1.51 percent.

The tax rate that would levy the same amount of real estate tax as last year, when multiplied by the new total assessed value of real estate would be 46 cents per $100 of assessed value.

County supervisors propose to adopt a tax rate of 46 cents.

All other tax rates are slated to remain the same with personal property remaining at $3.60 and machinery and tools tax remaining at $1.26.

A 1-cent increase in the real estate tax rate will generate an additional $362,600 in income for the county.

Also during Monday night’s meeting, supervisors are scheduled to hold a public hearing around 6 p.m. on the proposed county budget that includes the school budget.

The $87.9 million proposal reflects a 1 percent increase over the current year’s budget, calls for a one-cent hike in the real estate rate to make it revenue neutral and includes no salary hikes for county employees.

The budget draft proposes raising the real estate tax rate from 45 cents to 46 cents to counteract the decline in assessed values and pay for debt service to be incurred for renovation to the sheriff’s department and temporary courts, according to Halasz.

Halifax County’s proposed new real estate tax rate of 46 cents compares to neighboring counties’ rates including Campbell at 53 cents, Charlotte at 48 cents, Mecklenburg at 38 cents and Pittsylvania at 56 cents.

The budget also includes the absorption of the entire cost increase for county employee’s health care in the coming year, since no raises are being proposed.

Minor fee adjustments also are proposed in animal control, building permits and recreation, but these hikes are expected to generate relatively little new revenue, according to the county administrator.

In drafting the 2014 proposed budget, Halasz said the guiding principle used was to stay within the current year’s expenditure levels unless mandated to provide increases.

Along those lines, staff recommended no increases in staffing levels unless it is critical to maintain vital services, honoring its funding commitments to partner and regional agencies and local government partners and covering the anticipated debt service costs from the Phase I facility renovation projects for the sheriff’s office and temporary courts.

Most county departments’ operational budgets are less than the prior year.

However, health care costs are anticipated to increase and are included in the staff recommended budget.

Several significant changes in the budget include the following:

Revenues are up thanks to increased assessment amounts and the use of a third party collecting personal property taxes.

 A total of $30,000 was removed from the board of supervisors’ professional services expense since these funds had not been used in the past year.

 Central Accounting’s budget increased due to the new VISION CAMA annual maintenance agreement;

 Sheriff’s office budget increased to replace bulletproof vests;

 Line of Duty Act premiums went up 27 percent that is reflected in the sheriff’s, volunteer fire departments and emergency services budgets.

 The regional jail budget increased by $300,000 due to the jail inmate population increasing.

 Funding to the Community Services Board was increased by $25,000 because failure to increase it would have resulted in loss of services offered in the community.

 Funding for the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center remains at $104,229 to match a tobacco commission grant that will be fulfilled in 2016.

 A total of $5,000 is included for The Prizery to match a State Arts Commission Grant.

 Operating funds for the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority were held steady, but a request for $114,000 to match a tobacco commission grant is not included in the proposed budget.

 The tourism budget was held flat at the current year’s funding level of $106,119. In addition, Virginia’s Retreat cost of $4,500 and Roanoke River Rails to Trails’ fee of $2,000 are funded by the transient occupancy revenues.

 Funding required for the Virginia Department of Agriculture grant for the meat processing project is eliminated.

 Funding is decreased for the Old Dominion RC&D program.

 Cooperative Extension’s budget increased due to higher cost of state benefits.

 Debt service increased due to new debt to fund the renovations of the administration building for the sheriff’s office and new temporary courts.

 Social Services budget saw an increase due to one mandated staff position and a local match for a Safe and Stable Families grant.

 CSA budget was increased due to rising caseload and mandated care.

 Halifax County Public Schools’ funding will remain the same as the current year.

 The sheriff’s office budget reflects an increase of $130,000 to fund five new vehicles.

 E911 budget includes funding for two full-time dispatchers to support a restructured work schedule based on an approximate 40-hour pay structure with overtime to be paid for hours worked over 40.

Following the public hearings, supervisors plan to conduct a budget work session when they are expected to hear presentations by agencies, commissions and departments.

Scheduled to speak are the following:

 Don Burge of Southside Community Services Board;

 Jay Stephens of Halifax County/South Boston Libraries;

 Kathy Andrews of Halifax County Department of Social Services;

 Matt Leonard of Halifax County Industrial Development Authority;

 Patty Nelson of Southern Virginia Higher Education Center;

 Halifax County Public Schools; and 

 Halifax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracy Q. Martin.