No tax increase proposed in administrator’s budget

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: February 25, 2020 | 8:41 p.m.

Highlights of Ashcraft’s proposed budget:

  • No increases to county tax rates, including real estate & personal property
  • Construction of new elementary school included as part of $38 million debt issuance
  • County water, sewer rates to rise to pay for system maintenance and expansion
  • County employee raises absent from budget; will continue to address pay compression
  • $16.9 million in local funding for Prince George Schools, up $222,532 over FY2020

PRINCE GEORGE – Tax rates remain level in the county administrator’s proposed budget as Prince George prepares to embark on a $30 million-plus elementary school construction project and funding a number of new positions to support growing demand on county services.

Tuesday evening, Prince George County Administrator Percy Ashcraft presented his proposed FY2021 budget to the board of supervisors with a recommendation that the county real estate tax rate – currently at 86 cents per $100 of assessed value – remain unchanged in next year’s budget.

In his budget narrative shared with the public, Ashcraft said the decision to not recommend an increase in the county’s real estate tax rate is due to expected growth in that revenue stream to the tune of $1.9 million, or eight percent over the current fiscal year.

Source: Prince George County

In addition, Ashcraft said, “Other revenue sources, including machine and tools taxes and meals taxes are also projected to increase.”

“The total County Budget proposed is $129,748,493 which is 5.4 percent more than the Budget document adopted for fiscal year 2020,” Ashcraft’s narrative detailed. “The General Fund Budget is $61,720,893, which is 6.9 percent more than the adopted amount for fiscal year 2020.”

Expenditures are $3.9 million higher than FY2020, or 6.9 percent. Within that $1.2 million is a contribution to capital debt reserves “to fund several needed school, public safety and county capital construction and improvement projects.”

In his proposed budget, one elementary school is funded through an expected borrowing in the spring of next year, with that debt issuance slated to total $38 million. An rundown of those projects include:

  • A New Walton Elementary School [School] – $31,954,151*
  • Prince George High School Generator [School] – $179,220
  • Zoll X Series Monitors [County Public Safety] – $157,276
  • County Fleet Garage Bay Expansion [County] – $2,100,000
  • School Technology Infrastructure [School] – $328,000 [E-Rate local match]
  • School Buses [School] – $412,000
  • Prince George Volunteer Fire Company 1 Renovations [County Public Safety] – $2,500,000
  • Police / County Vehicles [County Public Safety / County] – $400,000 (continuation)

*Excludes $1,000,000 in Design Fees appropriated by the Board of Supervisors in FY’20.

A comparison of Prince George’s real property tax rate to its neighbors.

In addition, using General Fund revenue, $350,000 is included to continue maintenance projects to County buildings and grounds, $288,748 in Information Technology-related purchases (hardware, software, servers), and $10,465 included to refinish the Central Wellness Center gym floor, $10,770 included for one lawn mower, among others.

In regards to personnel, Ashcraft’s proposed budget does not include raises for county employees presently. In both 2018 and 2019, raised had been incorporated into the county’s budget.

Ashcraft’s budget does seek to continue to address pay compression by “continuing partial implementation of the 2018 Salary Study at a General Fund cost of $76,500 ($19,795 other funds). The Budget also includes $98,500 for Career Development for all County departments; $92,500 General Fund; $6,000 other funds.”

In addition, his budget requests the following additional positions – Combined, these positions will total $503,424:

  • Two Police Officers
  • a Deputy Director of Fire/EMS
  • a Senior Real Estate Appraiser
  • an Information Technology Computer/Technical Support Specialist
  • a Parks & Recreation Senior Grounds Maintenance Worker
  • Social Services Manager III – Case Manager (84.5% state funded).
  • One employee reclassification is also proposed for General Services – Building Maintenance Mechanic to Electrician

While taxes are not proposed to increase, county water and sewer customers will see a rate increase in Ashcraft’s proposed budget.

“Fee increases are proposed at three percent for water and one percent for wastewater. This will raise the average household bi-monthly bill to $53.38 for water and $114.16 for wastewater,” he said.

In his narrative, Ashcraft said the increases “are necessary to continue to maintain water and sewer operations and to pay for needed capital maintenance and expansion.”

In addition, “increases in permit, license and utility fees to keep up with inflation” are factored into his proposed budget.

For schools, the budget would provide $16.9 million in local funding to Prince George County Public Schools, “$16,746,798 to the School Operating Fund and another $163,385 to the School Textbook Fund,” a $222,532 increase over the 2020 financial year.

Source: Prince George County

This funding is based on the revised Memorandum of Understanding between the county and school division but, only the county has adopted the new language as of August 2019.

In the fall of last year, the school board sent questions and comments on that MOU but, no further revisions have been made and the school board has not adopted the MOU.

The county continues to face financial headwinds in regards to outside agency expenditures, including contributions to Riverside Regional Jail. In Ashcraft’s narrative, he explains an increase in the county’s inmate population and declining jail revenues necessitated the need to increase the county’s contribution.

In his budget, $2.1 million is dedicated to supporting the jail in the coming fiscal year, up 7.7 percent, or $156,904 over the current year.

The figure is based on a per diem of $46 per day, which is the second straight year the county has increased its per diem as the county’s jailed population grows. In 2019, the county raised its per diem from $40 to $43.

With the presentation, supervisors are expected to hold work sessions to further refine and discuss Ashcraft’s proposed budget with the first work session set for early next month. A tentative timetable for the budget was detailed:

  • March 12: Tax Rate Decision
  • April 14: Public Hearing and Adoption of Tax Rates
  • April 28: Public Hearing on Budget
  • May 12: Budget Adoption

Michael Campbell attended Tuesday’s budget presentation and will have a full walkthrough of Ashcraft’s proposed budget and comments from supervisors in next week’s Prince George Journal. 

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