Spotsylvania tax rate decision leaves school officials perplexed

by | Apr 10, 2024 | ALLFFP, Government, Schools & Education, Spotsylvania

The Spotsylvania County fiscal year 2025 real estate tax rate isn’t high enough for two members of the board of supervisors who want to offer more support for the school division. 

Conversely, the rate that was approved Tuesday night was too high for conservative Lee Hill District Supervisor Lori Hayes. 

The board voted 4-3 to approve a real estate tax rate of 73.43 cents per $100 of assessed value, nearly five cents lower than the advertised rate of 78.17 and also lower than County Administrator Ed Petrovich’s recommended rate of 75.17. 

Hayes, Battlefield District Supervisor Chris Yakabouski and Deborah Frazier of the Salem District voted against the motion. 

Yakabouski noted that the rate will lead to an increase of $33 per month on the mortgage of the average home in the county. He said that a tax rate of 75 cents per $100 of assessed value would add an additional $6 to homeowners’ mortgages but would allow the county to provide more funding to schools and other services. 

“I just want everyone to know that for a mere $6 you can fund our schools, fund our 911 communication, fund all those other positions for six bucks a month,” Yakabouski said. “I just want that to sink in.”  

Yakabouski went on to say that next year the supervisors will find themselves in a similar position of needing to hire more school and county staff. 

He said that neighboring county officials will seize on Spotsylvania’s apparent lack of investment as it competes to hire quality educators and public safety personnel. He noted that the tax rate is 18 cents less than Stafford County’s. 

“Not that it’s a game of doing as best as your neighbor, but keeping up at least a little bit,” Yakabouski said. “We just keep falling behind.” 

The Spotsylvania school system entered Tuesday night’s budget vote with a shortfall in local funding of more than $46 million.  

The division received $4.8 million in new funding from the county, with $3.1 million of that being a required match to the state’s proposal to give 3% teacher raises. The remaining $1.7 million is for debt service to pay on existing capital improvement projects. 

Hayes said the supervisors are doing the best they can to fund the county and that the narrative that they are neglectful is untrue. She said it was a “double whammy” that property assessments and the budget are higher this year. 

“This is going to be a tough year for everybody,” Hayes said. “I don’t think anybody is going to get what they want or what they feel they need.” 

The school board will meet Monday night to determine how to move forward. It is unlikely the board will be able to retain many of the 117 paraprofessionals who were hired with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

School Board Vice Chair Nicole Cole said the supervisors’ budget sends a clear message that “they don’t care about existing positions that we have, and they don’t care about us covering our maintenance.” 

“If this was a business, we would be out of business by the end of the year,” Cole said. “You can’t run a business by charging prices that don’t cover your bills, cover your employees.” 

Cole and School Board Chair Lorita Daniels attended the board of supervisors meeting to speak but were told before they approached the board that they could not address the tax rate, budget or Capital Improvement Plan because discussion on those matters ended at the conclusion of a public hearing on March 28 per state law. 

Still, Cole made her position clear that the school division needs more local funding, saying “We are not going to be able to go backwards anymore and keep it rural in Spotsy.” 

Cole added that school board elections this past November showed that the community wants the division to run effectively as ardent supporters of public education were elected. She said a similar effort needs to take place to ensure public education supporters are on the board of supervisors. 

Cole said the budget will not help the school system cover all of its maintenance bills, and preventative maintenance will be almost nonexistent.  

“It’s negligent,” Cole said of the supervisors’ budget. “It’s just ridiculous … It’s insanity. They might as well have gave [sic] us nothing. I just wish I could come up with a strong enough word. People have got to vote in 2025.” 

Frazier, who is the principal at Chancellor Middle School, argued successfully to keep the $3.1 million match for cost-of-living adjustment in the budget. Frazier said it would not be fair to give a raise to government employees and not school staff. 

Frazier also gave a passionate plea in support of education. She said there were times when previous boards provided as little as $17,000 in new funding. 

“All of us had to go to school somewhere and the preparation that goes on there is valuable work,” Frazier said. “We have lost so many teachers and educators in this community because we do not set the priority.” 

The supervisors acknowledged they will not be able to begin any new initiatives with this budget.  

Government employees will receive a 3% cost of living raise and a 2% merit raise. The budget funds all regional agencies at current levels and reduces funding to the Central Rappahannock Regional Library by $200,000. 

They are using $340,000 for a pay scale adjustment in 911 communications, providing the sheriff’s office with one new detective and adding a health and safety captain to the Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management Department. Tipping fees will provide for staff at the county waste sites.  

Board of Supervisors Chair Jacob Lane said that ideally the board could have lowered taxes even more so that the rate was equalized compared to last year when assessed home values were lower. But he said it was impossible to do so. 

“As our county is growing, residents need services,” said Lane, who represents the Livingston District. “They need teachers. They need firefighters. They deserve the services that they’re used to. All of these [housing] developments have come home to roost and there is no way we could equalize.” 

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