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HILLSVILLE — Two Carroll supervisors voted against the proposed fiscal year 2008-2009 tax rate of 59.5 cents Monday — not because they objected to the budget itself, but because of concerns about the recent property reassessment.
Several motions were needed at the supervisors' special meeting Monday to officially adopt the budget, including approving the bottom-line $74.8 million, appropriating the funds and setting the tax rate.
When it came time to adopt the entire budget amount — specified by County Administrator Gary Larrowe as $74,802,029, including general county funds, schools and funds that Carroll serves as the fiscal agent for, like the solid waste authority, the Small Business Development Center and Twin County Airport — there was some hesitation from the supervisors, but not much.
"Well, we've looked over it and looked over it, gentlemen," Supervisors' Chairman Sam Dickson prompted. "You got any questions you want to ask at this point?"
A few moments passed quietly, before Dickson asked if there was a motion.
Supervisor Manus McMillian offered the motion to approve the budget as presented, which Supervisor David Hutchins seconded. All five supervisors present approved the motion.
(Andy Jackson was absent because his daughter was having surgery, county officials said.)
Hutchins made the motion to approve the appropriations, seconded by Supervisor Tom Littrell and approved by all supervisors present.
But, when Dickson asked for a motion to approve the real estate tax levy, none were forthcoming.
"I guess you can tell by the way [we're sitting here] that we're not exactly pleased with this," the chairman said. So, he tabled that matter until the end of the meeting.
In the supervisors’ time, the elected officials said this budget was a challenge.
Hurst said the supervisors want to spend money on projects that they expect will bring a return to the county. Some money has to be spent on infrastructure to ensure a return, he said.
The supervisors feel for the citizens' situation on taxes, but the county is trying to attract businesses to Carroll.
Carroll is at a crossroads, as Hutchins sees it. "We have a choice of moving forward or moving backward." If the county could attract business, then it would not be in this situation, citizens say.
Hutchins said there's been no planning for that, except in a reactionary way. "I believe this board has worked diligently and this budget reflects the fact that we want to move the county forward, but doing so is painful because it requires change, and change oftentimes costs some dollars."
Carroll doesn't have a huge industrial base from which to draw that money, but the county is moving ahead with water and sewer and broadband projects, which should give the county a boost by drawing more businesses and industries, he said.
This budget does move those projects forward, though perhaps not as much as they wanted.
The budget contains some items that can't be cut, like state and federal dollars, Hutchins added.
Littrell noted this year has been painful, with the reassessment and the need for revenue. "I think the budget is good for the county but maybe not too good for some individuals in the county — that's unfortunate," he said.
It's a challenge to create growth in a time of economic hardship, McMillian said. The supervisors have worked diligently to cut the budget as much as possible and to be good stewards of the taxpayers' dollars.
It's just been six months since this board of supervisors took office, and Dickson acknowledged that not all the problems have been solved. But, he believes they are making progress.
In the end, Littrell — though he was uncomfortable with it — offered what he understood would be an unpopular motion to approve the 59.5-cent tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year, starting in July.
In order to second the motion, Dickson stepped down from his role as chairman.
"To me, the whole thing comes back to the assessment," Hurst said. About 30 percent of the property owners have seen their real estate rise way above the county average, he explained. He questions the assessment and its effect on some of the homeowners.
McMillian agreed, adding he was not confident with some of the work done in connection with the assessment, but he is confident with the supervisors' work on this budget. He has yet to figure out how that the taxes increased at such a rate.
When the question was called, McMillian and Hurst voted no, while Hutchins, Dickson and Littrell voted yes.
The supervisors did receive some good news — that the county’s fund balance wasn't as depleted as previously thought.
In a report on the audit for the 2006-2007 fiscal year, auditor
Corbin Stone of Robinson Farmer Cox said Carroll had a healthy fund balance in the amount of almost $10.5 million.
"Going into a weak economy, you're in a position I think a lot of counties would like to be in," the auditor said.
Carroll's total debt, including that for the Public Service
Authority, stood at $53 million, the auditor continued. That makes the per capita debt amount $1,758 — less than the state average of about $2,300.
Comparing Carroll to counties closer to its own population, that average is closer to $1,800 or $1,900, so Carroll's debt is in line with its peers in Virginia, Stone said.