By Aila Boyd
The Botetourt County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted last Tuesday to adopt the county’s fiscal year 2020-2021 budget. The approval comes following the April 20 tax rate and budget public hearings.
“This was masterful budget work,” Steve Clinton, who represents the Amsterdam District, said. “County Administration and the Budget Subcommittee really went above and beyond to meet the needs and concerns of all citizens and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.”
The $104.1 million budget includes a $2.7 million reduction over the original spending plan, a real estate tax relief program, and a local small business grant program. It also includes a 3.1 percent anticipated increase in revenues and a 3.1 percent increase in expenditures, including a fund transfer of $25,690,881 for Botetourt County Public Schools.
The reduction in spending was possible through a freeze in hiring and discretionary spending.
“Typically, annual budgeting is a fairly routine task but I can honestly say, ‘not this year.’ The second half of FY20 has presented a number of unique and difficult challenges; however, I am really excited, and frankly inspired, by the innovation, creativity, collaboration, and perseverance that our Budget Subcommittee was able to bring to this process over the last few months,” Botetourt County Administrator Gary Larrowe said. “We are about to present some real out of the box thinking and, if the Board of Supervisors approves, we are going to do something that, to my knowledge, has never been done before at least in Virginia. The plan relies on several strategic partnerships and demonstrates the interconnected nature of the Botetourt community. I cannot wait to share the details of this proposal.”
The county took the approach of delaying budget decisions until as late as possible to more fully determine how the COVID-19 pandemic and state of emergency would impact the community.
Botetourt County Administration and the county’s Budget Subcommittee, which was comprised of Fincastle District Supervisor Dr. Richard Bailey, Steve Clinton, and citizen representative John Williamson, originally started planning efforts in November of 2019, but plans were scrapped in March of this year in order to rebuild the budget from the ground up once the pandemic set in, which caused business shutdowns and inflated unemployment rates.
“In planning for FY21, the sub-committee has built a budget that addresses the immediate and very real community needs during this pandemic while looking ahead to also prepare for longer term community priorities and recovery efforts. This approach has required an intentional balance between fiscal responsibility and crisis support for citizens while allowing the Board of Supervisors the maximum amount of budget flexibility available,” Botetourt County Board of Supervisors Chairman Billy Martin said.
The one-time real estate tax relief program is equal to five cents on the real estate tax rate. The county plans to leverage general fund savings to supplement the property tax for all private property owners in the county with a relief amount equaling to more than 70 percent of the overall reassessment increase, which will allow for a one-time relief of five cents per $100 of property value.
Because existing laws prohibit direct tax rebates, the county is required to involve a third party. Virginia Community Capital (VCC), a non-profit bank and community development financial institution, has been selected to process a voluntary donation for the purposes of emergency relief for citizens.
During the meeting, the process for how the process will play out was explained. It was noted that by August 5, the county treasurer will provide Virginia Community Capital with a list of all county taxpayers and county real estate parcel tax burden for 2020/2021 tax bills. By August 8, the county will pay the bank $2.3 million plus transaction and legal costs, which are estimated to be $10,000, as a voluntary donation for the purposes of emergency relief.
Virginia Community Capital will then pay the sum of the grant directly to the county treasurer in a “tax relief donation” that will be spread across the real estate parcels for COVID-19 tax relief. The treasurer will then credit each property account. The amount of the tax relief donation will appear as a credit on the physical tax bills sent to each taxpayer for each parcel along with other payments or credits.
It was noted that any unused tax credit allocations will be returned to the county within 14 business days.
“This is a completely new idea and process. In order to make it work for our community, we had to involve our attorney Mike Lockaby, our auditor Corbin Stone at Robinson Farmer Cox, Bill Arney, Botetourt County treasurer and our partners at VCC,” Larrowe said. “If any one of them said it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done, we would to have had to go back to the drawing board but, to our delight, everyone’s collaboration and innovation really came together and created an opportunity that I don’t believe anyone in Virginia realized was possible. This provides tax relief to the shareholders of Botetourt County and protects the tax base for the future post COVID-19 era.”
The small business assistance grant program invites local businesses to apply for up to $5,000 worth of direct assistance with professional service costs such as legal, accounting, marketing, ecommerce, software, website development, technology hardware, lost inventory, and sunk costs.
The budget also addressed several new and existing community needs deemed to still be priority efforts and allocated funds for expanding broadband access, completion of Colonial Elementary School construction, library subscriptions to support online reading applications for students, and a senior transport van to help address social distancing requirements and COVID-19 safety measures for the community’s most vulnerable populations.
The 2020 tax rate was adopted with no increases. The county’s tax rates per $100 of assessed value for tax year 2020 are: personal property ($2.71), machinery and tools ($1.80), mobile homes ($0.79), real estate ($0.79), motor homes ($2.71), and wind farms ($0.99).
Additionally, the county’s capital improvement plan for 2021-2025 was approved. The general fund totals $9,392,750 for the five years. Yearly breakdowns are as follows: FY21 ($1,719,750), FY22 ($1,692,000), FY23 ($2,463,500), FY24 ($2,007,000), FY25 ($1,510,500). The capital project descriptions are as follows: parks, recreation, and culture ($1,906,000), general government ($0 maintenance ($2,507,250), community and economic development ($3,480,000), waste management ($70,000), fire and EMS ($304,000), library ($210,000), and technology services ($915,500).