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James City's proposed budget gets quiet review

jojacobs@vagazette.com

The county’s proposed $253 million budget for fiscal year 2019 received a quiet review at a public hearing Tuesday.

The county’s proposed budget includes a $204.5 million general fund, which is an $8.2 million increase over the fiscal year 2018 budget’s general fund. The general fund is the county’s primary operating fund. The county would allocate $108.2 million to Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools for operations and debt service.

The proposed budget would cut the real estate tax by 2 cents from 84 cents to 82 cents per $100 of assessed value. The tax cut would go into effect if Senate Bill 942, which would increase the sales tax in Historic Triangle localities by 1 percent to generate revenue for tourism marketing, goes into effect.

Four residents spoke during the public hearing, with taxes being the popular topic.

Resident Dorothea Matthews voiced support for the proposed real estate tax cut in the budget as well as other tax decreases, such as a reduced machinery and tools tax.

“I think we should keep companies here, encourage them to expand and bring new industry. I think that would be a signal,” Matthews said.

The county’s machinery and tools tax is $4 per $100 of assessed value.

“I want you to keep my 2 cents,” Leslie Schmidt said. “I don’t think the county should be in the business of footing the bill for people who are in the industry of making money.”

Gov. Ralph Northam made amendments to Senate Bill 942 that would exempt groceries from the tax and retain the $2 transient occupancy tax Monday. The version of the bill passed by the General Assembly would tax groceries and eliminate the $2 transient occupancy tax.

The county's proposed budget, which was released March 30, projected an estimated $5.5 million in revenue thanks to the bill as passed by the General Assembly. The bill would provide half of the 1 percent of sales tax to the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance, which the alliance would use to market the region to overnight tourists. The other half of the total revenue would be divided among Williamsburg, James City and York based on where it was collected.

The Senate and House of Delegates will now revisit the legislation due to the governor’s action, making it unclear exactly how much revenue the county may receive.

“Our board should be amenable to examine giving some of that back and a lot of it will depend on how much money we do get,” James City Supervisor Jim Icenhour said.

He suggested funds be used for non-reccuring expenditures and that the public be allowed to provide input on its usage.

According to the proposed budget, $2.4 million of the sales tax revenue would go to offset losses from the decreased real estate tax. Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools would receive $1.4 million for five school buses as well as operations costs and construction projects at some school entryways. Another $1.3 million would be used to hire six firefighters and three police officers and also replace portable emergency radios.

Resident Jay Everson took aim at a proposal in the budget for the county to provide annual physical examinations for police and fire personnel.

Everson worried resultant data the county would gather could be compromised, potentially leading to embarrassing, and perhaps unfairly career-ending, situations for police and fire personnel.

“I don’t think it far-fetched,” he said.

The initiative would cost $110,000 every year. Exams would be conducted at county facilities and include hearing and health screenings to “ensure staff are able to perform essential job functions and to provide early detection of issues that can save lives in the future,” according to the proposed budget.

In other news, the board unanimously approved a $235,500 contract for engineering services for county marina improvements.

The contract will cover initial design and engineering on the property, which will provide marching orders as the county continues to renovate James City County Marina in the coming years, director of Parks and Recreation John Carnifax said.

“We need this first analysis,” Carnifax said. “We want to come back to you with some plans and some options.”

Contractor Vanasse Hangen Brustlin will map out an Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible dock, replacement of covered boat storage, fuel tank and boat ramp relocation and designate pedestrian walkways.

“We need to bring the property up to standard,” Interim County Administrator Bill Porter said.

Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.

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