Residents speak in support of land preservation funding in JCC budget

Staff writer

County residents spoke in favor of funding for land preservation programs in James City County’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2020.

There isn’t specific funding for land-preservation programs in the $247 million proposed budget, but officials have said the $1.3 million earmarked for land and facilities purchases within the budget’s capital spending fund could potentially go toward land-preservation programs.

“Communities that conserve land are making a wise investment,” said resident Caren Schumacher, adding she felt land preservation helps reduce the tax burden by minimizing development and improves property values.

She was one of four people who spoke in favor of funding for land preservation at the public hearing.

“I’m not an anti-growth person, I am a protectionist,” said resident Tom Hitchens. “Acting today to protect our sensitive land just makes sense.”

Hitchens said runaway development, which land preservation programs would rein in, ruins the county’s unique rural character and environmental quality.

Supervisors previously have expressed interest in funding land-preservation programs and they reiterated that interest after the hearing.

In January, the Board of Supervisors expressed support for a staff proposal to re-examine the county’s existing land-preservation tools — Purchase of Development Rights, Greenspace Fund and Agricultural and Forestal Districts programs — with an eye toward revitalizing the tools.

Purchase of Development Rights and the Greenspace Fund both saw their funding cut during the Great Recession. The former was created with $1 million in seed money in fiscal year 2002; the latter got its start in April 1996 with $300,000 in funding as part of the fiscal year 1997 budget.

In the Purchase of Development Rights program, landowners keep their land but sell development rights to the county or a conservation organization. In the Greenspace program, the county buys the land for conservation.

The Purchase of Development Rights program has 12 agreements of about 730 acres, with lands on Forge Road, Rochambeau Drive and Bush Neck. The Greenspace program has 27 agreements of about 1,333 acres. Those acres include property at Mainland Farm and Chickahominy Riverfront Park, according to a presentation given by staff to the supervisors in June.

The Agricultural and Forestal Districts program sees the county exchange tax relief on property for a guarantee that the owner won’t develop the land for a specific period.

The proposed budget is a 3.5 percent decrease compared to FY19’s adopted budget.

That’s mostly due to less spending on capital projects — $15.7 million proposed for FY20 versus the $30.4 million in the FY19 adopted budget.

The general fund is proposed to be $211.8 million — a $5.9 million increase compared to the FY19 adopted budget’s general fund.

County staff would keep real estate and personal property taxes level at 84 cents per $100 of assessed value and $4 per $100 of assessed value, respectively.

There are fee increases in the proposed budget. Due to market pressures created by a ban on recyclables by China, it has become more expensive for the county to offer curbside recycling.

In FY20, the county expects to pay $1.8 million for the service, whereas the previous fiscal year the county allocated $525,767 to cover the service.

With a desire to maintain level funding on its side, the county is looking at an opt-out curbside recycling program that would cost households $7 per month.

There’s also a 13.5 percent increase to water and sewer fees in the proposed budget in response to anticipated repair and maintenance costs and funding needs for long-term water supply solutions.

For the average 5,000-gallons-per-month residential user, the increase translates into $3.10 more, from $38.95 per month to $42.05 per month, according to the budget.

Of the $211.8 million in revenue anticipated in FY20, about $137 million comes in the form of real estate and personal property taxes. Those taxes are expected to rake in $3.8 million more in FY20 than they did in FY19. The increase is due to the county’s anticipated growth and a stronger push by the treasurer’s office to secure delinquent collections, the proposed budget document states. FY20 isn’t a reassessment year.

The county’s proposed budget would allocate $110.5 million to the Williamsburg-James City County School Division. That’s a $2.4 million increase in operational funding compared to FY19. The county would provide $2.9 million for the district’s capital projects.

The county also plans to add 14 new staff positions, including six firefighters and three police officers.

James City FY20 budget calendar

  • Board of Supervisors neighborhood forum on proposed budget 6:30 p.m. Thursday at James City County Recreation Center.
  • Board of Supervisors budget work session 4 p.m. April 23 at the James City County Government Center Building F.
  • Board of Supervisors budget work session 4 p.m. April 30 at the James City County Government Center Building F.
  • Budget adoption 5 p.m. May 14 at the James City County Government Center Building F.

The county budget can be viewed at jamescitycountyva.gov.

Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, jojacobs@vagazette.com, @jajacobs_

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