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Fauquier County budget public hearing is tonight at 7

Tuesday, Mar. 25 | By Jonathan Hunley
The Fauquier Board of Supervisors will hold public hearings tonight on the county's budget and real-estate tax rate for the next fiscal year.

The forums, which will begin at 7, will be at Fauquier High School.

And here's our latest story on the budget to get you up to speed:

Supervisors pledge to work to bridge $3 million gap

Fauquier County Administrator Paul McCulla came up with an easy budget fix recently:

When asked for comments at a joint Board of Supervisors-School Board meeting, he didn't talk tax rates or debate leasing versus buying equipment.

Nope. He had a different idea:

"I bought a Powerball ticket," McCulla said March 13, holding aloft said ticket for all to see.

It was a light moment to end a serious meeting about how to bridge a $3 million gap between what the School Board wants in next year's fiscal budget and what the county administrator has proposed to devote to education.

The real answer to the funding question, however, was that it's still unclear exactly how much tax money will go to the schools, though supervisors pledged to do all they can to provide for Fauquier's educational system.

"We're all in it together," Supervisor Lee Sherbeyn said.

And School Board member Raymond “Duke” Bland Sr. responded, "It's a partnership."

McCulla proposed a $166.4 million general fund budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

It would devote $80.4 million to county schools, nearly $2 million more than the current fiscal year.

Schools Superintendent David Jeck, however, proposed a $132.6 million spending plan that asks for $5.2 million in local revenue.

That means the supervisors and School Board are about $3 million apart.

It seems unlikely that supervisors will vote to provide a whole $3 million more to the schools than McCulla proposed, but they said at the meeting that they would do their best financial figuring.

"My commitment to you is to try to come up with just as much as we can," Board of Supervisors Chairman Chester Stribling told School Board members.

Supervisors Peter Schwartz and Chris Granger said education is one of several funding "holes" that Fauquier must fill, the others being needs with the Sheriff's Office, fire and rescue services, and parks and recreation.

Problem is, Schwartz and Granger said, plugging all of those gaps would require adding 12 cents to 15 cents to the real-estate tax rate, which is currently 98 cents per $100 of assessed value.

"I can tell you that my constituents, many, many of my constituents, simply can't afford that kind of hit," said Schwartz, who represents the Marshall District.

Sherbeyn told School Board members that the best way to get more revenue for education is to support infrastructure in Fauquier's service districts, which are designated for growth.

New businesses will come where there's infrastructure, the supervisor said, and that increases the commercial tax base, meaning there's less pressure to hike the tax rate and further burden homeowners.

"That's certainly one way to grow the revenue base," Bland responded.

While supervisors were speaking in terms of taxes and revenue, the School Board members made a case for quality of education.

They said Jeck's spending plan wasn't a Cadillac version of a budget. For example, principals and administrators requested hiring more than 50 new teachers, but the superintendent proposed only the equivalent of five new positions.

Really, School Board member Donna Grove said, the decision is about how good Fauquier County wants its schools to be.

"We can be OK schools, but I don't think Chris [Granger] or [School Board member] Brian [Gorg] want their kids in OK schools," said Grove, referring to the Center District representatives on the two boards.

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