(Update/Correction: The reference below to Melissa Chappell-White’s assertions that POSF may owe decades of back debt to the county has been corrected to indicate that this possibility revolves around the ownership of multiple properties by POSF Inc. in the Shenandoah Farms Health District and the possibility that “POSF Inc. owes decades of unpaid health district fees and property taxes” as opposed to “past projects” as originally reported. by Mark Egger was also added.)
At a special April 12 meeting, the Warren County Board of Supervisors received a summary presentation of the county’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget of $133,071,712 from Chief Financial Officer Matt Robertson and heard from seven speakers at a public hearing on this budget. No action has been planned or taken as supervisors remain hopeful of a resolution to the state budget process and potential impacts to state revenue streams in the county budget.
However, County Administrator Ed Daley told the council not to hold their collective breath while waiting for that. Daley predicted that the Virginia General Assembly may not approve the state budget for a month or two near the end of June 30 of the current fiscal year 2022. By law, state budgets and premises must be approved before the start of July 1 of the following fiscal year.
Approval of the county budget was discussed for a vote at the May 3 morning meeting. However, as the general assembly and the governor continue to debate revenue and tax expenditure variables, municipalities find themselves second guessing state contributions on various fronts. These include public schools, which here have a projected 10% increase over the state projected in the existing budget; as well as constitutional officers and social services. And state revenue for personal property and the grocery tax remain unresolved.
The FY-23 county budget has no proposed tax increases in support of a budget up 1.57% from the current budget year. However, several speakers urged supervisors to scrap the auto aspect of the county’s property tax due to an unprecedented rise in used car appraisal values due to supply chain issues with new cars. Several supervisors noted that they were keeping tabs on a pending state-level car tax ruling before committing to local action. And in a Dillon Rule state like Virginia, it has been observed that localities cannot enact authorities not granted to them by the state government.
Public School Funding Prospects
The public hearing got off to an explosive start when Mark Egger took to the podium. Referring to recent parent issues over public school library materials designed to address sexual orientation issues some students may face entering puberty, Egger lambasted the county’s public school division for having conveyed what he called a “gender agenda”. From the county’s largest departmental area – local public school funding of $27.72 million was cited at 31% of the county’s budget, with public safety at 17% ($15.29 million) the second most large sector – Egger suggested a total reduction in funding, “zero dollars” at what is generally considered, with public safety and public health and welfare (the latter 13% to $11.52 million in this budget), one of the three main functions and responsibilities of municipal government.
“You heard me right, zero dollars,” Egger said as he launched into a philosophical treatise on gender, gender identification, and human sexuality. “I’m not going to use the nonsense term transgender. – Gender is a grammatical term. Nouns in some foreign languages have a gender. Humans don’t have a gender, they have a sex, and it’s either male or female,” Egger asserted. He continued to equate the teaching or reference to gender identification from a perspective other than a traditional male/female perspective to the teaching that “the earth is flat” or “the moon is made of green cheese”.
Egger was followed on the podium by second speaker Michael Williams, staff member of E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School. Acknowledging Egger’s views and his right to voice them, Williams noted that he should disagree with them before moving on to his public hearing contribution. This contribution was intended to adequately fund the school budget to allow for necessary physical improvements to the E. Wilson Morrison plant. Williams acknowledged some recent improvements and called it an “encouraging” development. However, he added that EWM remains the county’s only public school without a gymnasium. “And don’t get me started on the auditorium circa 1920… with splintered wooden seats that E. Wilson Morrison himself sat in and were there before him,” Williams theorized.
Concluding to implore the board of trustees for proactive funding to bring the school up to the standards taken for granted in other public schools in the system, Williams praised the current superintendent of schools, Dr. Ballenger, and the administrative staff for getting the process started and shedding light on the school’s physical shortcomings. which long predate the current public school administration.
Third in the batting order and continuing to criticize the initiative of the owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF) to regain responsibility for the management of the Farms health district, Melissa Chappell-White suggested suspending the health district’s budget until that past management and funding issues are resolved. She even speculated that POSF might owe the county decades of back debt related to “POSF Inc.’s ownership of approximately 70 properties in the Shenandoah Farms Health District, and the possibility, if not likelihood , that POSF Inc. owes decades of unpaid health district fees and property taxes.
The seventh and final public speaker for the public hearing was Wyatt Strickland, Deputy Chief and Chairman of the Shenandoah Shores Volunteer Fire & Rescue Department. While calling the department’s future “bright,” Strickland noted the size and number of Christendom College students and staff (679 pre- and post-graduate students) in the department’s service area asking for a funding to add full-time career staff to the department to ensure timely emergency responses if needed.
Develop an “intelligent” reduction strategy
As noted above, a number of speakers addressed the potential personal property tax impacts of soaring used car valuations, as well as the impacts of national inflation driving up costs. on commodities, among others, while wages tend to remain stagnant. In response to questions about funding for county staff salary increases, North River Supervisor Delores Oates noted that these increases have been mandated for some county staffing positions at the state level.
In response to questions from Fork District Supervisor Vicky Cook and Oates about the potential for reductions generated by lost state revenue, the county administrator agreed that rather than departmental reductions at all levels, staff and supervisors would work to target cuts to specific areas. determined to be less vital in the coming year.
“We would look more at the dollars there and where the biggest chunks are, and see where we can make cuts with the least impact on public services,” Daley told the board.
“I just want to put on the table that hopefully we’ll be smart,” Cook commented after citing non-regional nonprofits the county helps fund locally as potential targets for cuts if needed.
The special meeting and public hearing on the budget followed a joint 40-minute closed session of county and city council supervisors, as well as county and city EDA members. The Motion for Closing indicated a discussion of “the interest of a potential business or industry in locating or expanding its facilities in the community…in the masterful Shenandoah District located both within and outside ‘Outside the town limits of Front Royal’.
Watch the Board of Supervisors working session on the county’s video here.