JAMES CITY - Stormwater issues dominated the county's first budget forum hosted by Supervisor John McGlennon Thursday night in the James City County Government Center.
For an hour and a half, McGlennon fielded questions on County Administrator Bryan Hill's proposed budget, including the 8.2-cent proposed tax hike that would be the county's first in two decades.
Nearly 80 people filled the board room for the event, the first of five forums scheduled before a budget is decided upon.
The tax increase would mean the average homeowner in James City County would pay an additional $20 per month, or $240 per year. Some people dressed in green, backing some state and local conservative groups opposing any tax increase.
Hill kicked off the session by saying the budget was otherwise flat from the plan adopted last year, but it would be up to supervisors and the public to decide how many of his five strategic initiatives, including stormwater, improving the county appearance, school funding for buses and roof repair, replenishing debt service reserves and economic development, would remain intact.
"We can either have a budget that ignores these concerns or we can do something about the concerns," said McGlennon. "We do that by generating more revenue or taking the money from our existing sources. If we rolled them into the current funding, we would have to do a 12 percent reduction in all of the services we currently provide," McGlennon said.
"How did we get in this situation?" a man called out from the audience.
The answer to that question has been politically charged, but McGlennon gave his perspective. "There was unwillingness of the board to raise property tax rates during times where the economy was not doing well," said McGlennon, who has been on the board for 17 years.
Questions from the audience quickly turned to stormwater. The proposed budget would see the county spend an additional $1.9 million on stormwater and drainage, including reinstating a Neighborhood Drainage Program in partnership with local homeowner associations.
McGlennon paraphrased part of the language Hill used in his budget notes. "Rain is free, but getting rid of it is expensive," he told the audience.
James Curtis, who said he lived in the Grove area, expressed disappointment that more hadn't been done in his area to improve drainage. He said outside of his church there was standing water that had been problematic for more than 25 years. "Please don't forget about us," he said, garnering applause from the majority of the audience.
Another audience member, David Jarman, said he found things in the budget he was pleased with.. "The fact that you're fully funding stormwater is impressive," he said, as McGlennon and Hill nodded in approval. He also said he was pleased \the county was spending $1.5 million to restore debt service reserves, which county staff said would be critical to maintaining a AAA bond rating.
"Unfortunately, there were some things I didn't like," Jarman added.
"Well you've run out of your time," McGlennon joked. The audience burst into laughter. "Nobody likes a 12 percent increase in their taxes," Jarman said. "I think it is probably high by a factor of 2." He also said there was an opportunity to reduce staffing levels and costs in the school division.
Joe Swanenberg, a frequent critic of the Board of Supervisors, asked Hill what neighborhoods would benefit. He mentioned Fernbrook, which has been plagued with stormwater issues.
"There’s nothing designated for any neighborhood yet," Hill said. "We’re going to go through a process once the budget is approved."
The Williamsburg Historic Triangle Tea Party passed out handbills outside of the county board room outlining its opposition to a tax increase. The flyer criticized money the county has spent over the past decade for developmental rights, sometimes referred to as PDR. The bill also said additional savings could be obtained by restructuring health plans in the Williamsburg-James City County School Division.
The forum drew a host of county officials, including Planning Commission member George Drummond, Assistant County Administrator Adam Kinsman, Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael Hipple, as well as two candidates for the board this fall: Sue Sadler and School Board Vice Chairwoman Heather Cordasco. Cordasco is running in Roberts District, which McGlennon represents. Both Cordasco and Sadler declined to comment on the forum, saying they were attending as citizens, not candidates.
Hipple said he was pleased with the tone of the first forum, after a tense meeting with a trio of conservative groups last week.
"There was really more positive than negative," Hipple said. "As far as the speakers went, there was a lot of positive on what needs to be done, and what direction the county is going in right now."
"I thought John ran a good forum," he said.
Bougues can be reached by phone at 757-345-2346