Augusta County supervisors were on the verge of raising real estate taxes Wednesday night but stepped back from the brink. They will instead raise the cost of owning a car, all in an effort to fund schools and public safety.
Augusta residents who own a car worth $20,000 will see their yearly tax bill rise by $50. That's the bottom line for a property tax hike that generates just over a million dollars in new revenue.
It was a series of split decisions as Augusta supervisors haggled over possible tax increases and service decreases. In a pair of 4-to-3 votes, supervisors decided to keep the real estate tax rate at 48 cents, but raise the personal property tax by a quarter. That means renters who own cars will share the burden.
Augusta County Supervisor Michael Shull said, "If it was all imposed on real estate, I don't think we would have the tax balance there that they would be paying their fair share."
Shull is among those who favored closing Augusta's $3 million deficit by dipping into reserves. But the car tax hike kicks in a million and supervisors also made some last minute cuts.
"Going so far into our savings account wouldn't have been wise," said Augusta County Supervisor David Karaffa. "However, we went through all the editions of the budget this evening and found where things could wait a year."
Those things include a pair of new sheriff's deputies and some additional fire-and-rescue staffers.
Shull said, "If we see that the economy's turning around, things are turning around, maybe we can look at this in next year's budget and maybe put it back in there."
"It came down to what was critically needed this year, what could wait until next year. But these are very tough budget times. The next budget proves it'll be just as difficult, and probably the one after that," said Karaffa.
The final budget for this year is $74 million.
Augusta County supervisors - as promised - did provide their public schools with $3 million. Just over a half-million of that will be set aside for school capital projects.