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Stafford Supervisors debate fee increases, Real Estate tax rates ahead of March 5 decision

During the February 22, 2024, Stafford County Board of Supervisors session, deliberations centered on potential fee increases aimed at bolstering funding for various county government operations.

Budget Director Andrea Light, addressing the board, outlined the forthcoming steps regarding fee adjustments. “We have assumed about $150,000 of new revenue based on the fee increases from development services.” She highlighted the proposed timeline for implementing changes, with the Board set to vote to advertise a tax rate on March 5 and the adoption of its FY2025 budget slated for April 2.

Parks and recreation fees, which have seen minimal adjustments since 2014, were also scrutinized. Light explained the proposed phased approach: “The first phase would entail a 10% increase in fees in the fiscal year 2025 budget, accounting for about $240,000 in new revenue.”

Supervisor Darrell English raised questions about fee allocation, particularly for non-residents. He suggested, “Non-residents should pay more than the residents do.” Supervisor Morris clarified that non-residents pay higher fees, albeit at a 10% increase rate similar to residents.

Supervisor Pamela Yeung advocated for investment in community infrastructure, proposing upgrades to park facilities and exploring new revenue streams through events and rentals. She emphasized, “I think if we’re looking at bringing in more fees, we should consider making [unused fields] into a turf field.”

The board agreed to advertise public hearings for the proposed fee increases, ensuring transparency and community input. County Administrator Randall Vosburg, who announced his pending resignation, reiterated, “The real debate on those fees will occur at the actual public hearings on this item.”

Supervisors also discussed increasing fees for developers. The proposed fee adjustments stem from a comprehensive evaluation conducted by consultants.

Supervisor Darrell English raised concerns about the potential impact of these fee increases on residents and developers. “We need to ensure that any fee hikes are reasonable and equitable,” he remarked.

However, others, like Supervisor Pamela Yeung, expressed cautious optimism about the proposed adjustments. “We must strike a balance between generating revenue and ensuring that the county remains attractive for development,” she noted.

The discussion also touched upon the potential benefits of the increased revenue. Deputy County Administrator Morris highlighted the importance of funding critical infrastructure projects and services. “These fee hikes will enable us to invest in vital community initiatives,” Morris said.

While the debate over the development services fee increases continues, the Board of Supervisors remains committed to transparency and public input. Supervisor Vosburg reiterated, “We will ensure that the community has ample opportunity to weigh in on these proposed changes before any final decisions are made.”

The discussion comes as Supervisors prepare to advertise a Real Estate tax rate to fund Vosburg’s proposed $1 billion FY2025 budget on March 5. Once advertised for a public hearing, supervisors, by law, may lower but can’t increase the rate.

Vanuch emphasized the importance of considering the total tax burden on residents, suggesting that future discussions include the real estate tax and the fire levy to provide a clearer picture of the overall tax rate. The current fiscal year’s total tax rate stands at 94.5 cents per $100 of assessed value, with a proposed rate of 94 cents and an effective rate of 84 cents, reflecting a blend of necessary services funding and taxpayer relief.

The board discussed various tax rate scenarios, ranging from 94 to 89 cents, and the implications of each on the county’s budget and services. Lowering the tax rate from the proposed 94 cents would necessitate budget cuts, with significant concerns raised about the impact on essential services, including education, public safety, and infrastructure. The discussion underscored the challenge of aligning the county’s fiscal needs with its fiscal responsibility and taxpayer relief commitment.

In Stafford, every two and a half-million dollars in the budget is roughly equivalent to one penny on the tax rate.

Board members voiced concerns about the increasing assessments and the financial burden on taxpayers, exploring the possibility of targeted tax relief for specific groups, such as seniors and veterans, within the constraints of state law.

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