James City residents weigh in on budget at community meeting

jojacobs@vagazette.com

Taxes and the marina were on the minds of residents at a community meeting regarding James City’s proposed budget Thursday.

The $253 million proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 includes a $204.5 million general fund, which is the primary operating fund for the county. The fiscal year 2019 general fund would be a $8.2 million increase over fiscal year 2018. Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools would receive $108.2 million for operations and debt service.

Two residents spoke at the community meeting, which was intended as a way for county staff and the Board of Supervisors to hear residents’ thoughts on the proposed budget.

The county should consider knocking a dollar off the machinery and tools tax. Doing so would help ensure the county holds onto its manufacturing businesses, like the Anheuser Busch brewery, resident Jay Everson said.

“It seems to me it might make good, strategic, longterm sense to get some reduction,” Everson said.

The county’s current machinery and tools rate is $4 per $100 of assessed value. The proposed budget doesn’t include a cut, however Interim County Administrator Bill Porter suggested a cut could be considered.

“That’s one of the things we can look at,” Porter said.

The proposed budget does suggest another tax cut — a 2-cent decrease to the real estate tax.

The cut would lower the rate from 84 cents to 82 cents per $100 of assessed value. Whether that cut actually happens depends on whether Senate Bill 942, which would increase the sales tax by 1 percent to support tourism marketing, goes into effect. Half the sales tax increase would go to the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance to market to overnight tourists. The other half would go to Williamsburg, James City or York based on sales tax receipts.

“We have looked at how to return some of that money to the public and we came back with the idea of giving back two cents because that’s the one real tax the board has total control over,” Porter said.

The General Assembly passed a version of the bill that would tax groceries and eliminate the $2 transient occupancy tax in February. Gov. Ralph Northam pitched amendments for the legislation that would exempt groceries and retain the Historic Triangle localities’ $2 transient occupancy tax Monday. The General Assembly will have to consider the governor’s amendments, which could result in a different amount of money coming into the county’s coffers.

The proposed budget projects $5.5 million thanks to the sales tax bill as passed by the General Assembly.

Of that revenue, $2.4 million would offset losses from the real estate tax cut. Another $1.4 million would go to the school district for five school buses as well as operations costs and construction projects at some school entryways. Public safety would take a cut of $1.3 million, which would be used to hire six firefighters and three police officers and also replace portable emergency radios.

It’s estimated that James City would miss out on approximately $1 million if groceries are exempted and would gain about $400,000 if the $2 transient occupancy tax was retained, said Suzanne Mellen, the county financial management services director.

Resident Chris Henderson questioned investment in James City County Marina.

“What’s the economic benefit to citizenry who don’t have a boat?” Henderson said.

The proposed budget includes a number of expenditures related to the marina. Among the expenditures are $323,500 in capital improvements and $40,000 for a traffic analysis.

“There’s a stewardship requirement there to me that says we need to get it in shape,” said Porter, who added that the county would be in a better position to consider selling the property if it can be improved to a point that prompts a buyer pitch an acceptable offer.

The county decided to keep the marina after several unappealing offers to buy the property were made in 2015.

The next community meeting is scheduled to take place 6:30 p.m. Monday at James City library, which is located at 7770 Croaker Road. The board is expected to vote on the proposed budget May 8.

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

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