City Council Postpones Vote on Tax Increase
By LYNDON GERMAN
Apr 17, 2017, 08:22
HOPEWELL – Hopewell City Council held a public hearing regarding its real estate tax rate on April 11. Though some anticipated a lengthy discussion between constituents and the administration on whether the city should raise its real estate tax or take other elements into consideration, what actually happened was surprising to say the least.
As Mayor Jackie Shornak opened the public hearing for residents to raise their concerns, no one stepped forward. For City Council and most of the residents present, there was a moment of shock. One might expect this would be the one issue where residents would want their voices heard, but that didn’t happen.
The motion in question was to consider the City Manager’s recommendation to increase Hopewell’s real estate tax rate from $1.13 per $100 of property to $1.17, a four cent or 0.035 percent increase. The City Manager’s Office projected the city would increase its revenues by $520,000 with that tax raise. The following revenue could offset the projected expenditures for fiscal year 2018, particularly the Hopewell City Public School System’s request for an additional $515,719.
City Manager Mark Haley delivered a presentation illustrating the purpose of this increase during the last city council session on April 4. In his presentation he stressed the importance of following the outlined calendar to approve the city’s budget before the state of Virginia’s deadline set by Virginia code 22.1-93 which states the following:
“…the governing body of a county and the governing body of a municipality shall each prepare and approve an annual budget for educational purposes by May 15 or within 30 days of the receipt by the county or municipality of the estimates of state funds, whichever shall later occur.”
Haley also showed comparisons between the proposed tax increases to other localities. If the increase were to pass the rate would still be lower than the nearest cities of Colonial Heights, Petersburg and Richmond.
Despite the information above, City Council motioned to postpone the vote. Even if the motion were to come back to city council the result would be similar as multiple city council members spoke against the tax increase. Councilor Brenda Pelham of Ward 6 who opened the discussion alluded that the majority of council does not support the tax increase. Mayor Shornak, Vice Mayor Jasmine Gore, and Councilor Anthony Zevgolis and Councilor Christina Luman-Bailey spoke against the increase as well.
“From the residents I have heard in the audience tonight, I’m not in favor of raising the real estate tax at all,” said Vice Mayor Gore. Gore voiced her concern of not having enough information on how the additional funds would be used and not being able to articulate that knowledge to her constituents.
Mayor Shornack said much of the same thing stating that in the past when tax increases occurred it was for special projects for the city like the schools or downtown but she stressed that council needed more information to make a decision.
One thing all councilor’s agreed upon that not having the Comprehensive Annual Finance Report from the last two years causes a large amount of uneasiness, but as Councilor Luman-Bailey said, “We have to come up with something.”
To quell some of council’s concerns Haley pointed out that even without the CAFR the city would be able to create a balanced and comprehensive budget based on the city’s projected revenue and expenses. Also council does have scheduled budget work sessions for councilors to attend outlined in the City Manager’s budget preparation calendar.
According to Haley, the increase was derived from what City Council identified as priorities for the incoming year during their strategic planning retreat as it pertains to increase staffing for the Department of Development and increasing funding for the schools.
All in all, this presents an opportunity for council to reevaluate their needs for the incoming fiscal years and for residents to voice their concerns. Although the decision to postpone the vote prolongs the adoption of budget, with more time and information city council will gain more confidence in their finances.
The clock is ticking.