Henrico previews budget proposal that includes pay hikes, tax relief

Several hundred county employees gathered at Henrico’s vehicle maintenance depot for a budget preview Tuesday. (Jonathan Spiers photos)

Ahead of their formal presentation to county supervisors in two weeks, Henrico administrators gave a crowd of several hundred employees a preview of next fiscal year’s budget proposal that continues efforts to invest in the county’s workforce and provide tax relief for residents and businesses.

On top of a second consecutive real estate tax refund that officials announced two weeks earlier, Henrico is proposing to cut its personal property tax rate for qualifying vehicles by 10 cents, and provide county government and school system employees with 8.2 percent merit-based pay raises, among other budget highlights that were shared Tuesday in a gathering at the county’s Woodman Road depot.

Gasps among the crowd at the pay raise announcement signaled employees’ excitement over that proposal, which officials said would be the county’s largest across-the-board salary increase since 1991. The current spending plan provided a 5 percent increase for all employees.

The pay raises are aimed at keeping Henrico a pay leader among its peer localities and strengthen recruitment and retention, said Brandon Hinton, Henrico’s deputy county manager for administration. Starting salaries would increase to about $54,600 for teachers and $57,600 for police officers and firefighters, and the budget would bring the county’s minimum salary to $15 per hour.

“We ask you to do more and go above and beyond, and every single day you all amaze. For that effort, Henrico also strives to have the highest-paid workforce,” Hinton said, adding that investments in its employees carry over to the public and the services that are provided.

Employees were told the budget proposal would include the highest across-the-board salary increase in 33 years.

The personal property tax rate reduction, from $3.50 to $3.40 per $100 of assessed value, would add to the proposed 2-cents-per-$100 real estate tax refund that’s aimed at helping property owners offset rising real estate values and assessments. A similar 2-cent refund was approved last year in light of a surplus in real estate tax collections.

Officials said the proposed budget for fiscal year 2023-24 would provide more than $26 million in tax relief overall, between the personal property tax cut, the real estate tax refund and an expansion of the county’s Real Estate Advantage Program for seniors and disabled residents. The current budget provided $50 million in total tax relief, officials said.

“This budget continues to recognize the economic pressures on our residents and our businesses, especially those coming about from increased real estate and personal property values, and once again provides substantial tax relief to our residents and businesses,” Hinton said.

Other proposals aimed at helping businesses specifically include a utility connection fee waiver for hotels to encourage construction and redevelopment of old hotel sites, with county credits offsetting the typically charged fee of $5,465 per room for water and sewer connections.

Economic and community development items in the spending plan include $2 million for neighborhood revitalization projects, and $750,000 for the Henrico Investment Program, an incentives program for development in older commercial corridors that received the same amount of funding this fiscal year.

County Manager John Vithoulkas and HCPS Superintendent Amy Cashwell addressed employees at the event.

Overall, the proposed FY24 budget would increase spending over the current year by $91.2 million, or 8.6 percent. It would include a general fund of $1.15 billion, up from $1.1 billion this year, and maintain the real estate tax rate that was lowered last year to 85 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Capital spending would exceed $316 million, with over $114 million of that put toward the first wave of projects that voters approved in last year’s $511 million bond referendum. Those bond projects would include replacements for Jackson Davis and Longan elementary schools, planning for replacement of Quioccasin Middle School, and construction of an environmental living center at Wilton Farm, a nearly 1,200-acre property that Henrico bought from HHHunt four years ago.

The budget would fund 10 additional police officer positions, 11 Division of Fire positions, two sheriff’s office positions, a substance abuse director position, and a new position to oversee operations of the Henrico Sports & Events Center, set to open this fall at Virginia Center Commons. Additional budget highlights are listed on the county’s website.

County Manager John Vithoulkas is scheduled to present the budget proposal to the Board of Supervisors at its March 14 meeting. Public hearings are scheduled for the board’s April 11 and 25 meetings, with a board vote anticipated at the latter meeting. If approved, the budget would take effect July 1, the first day of the 2023-24 fiscal year.

At Tuesday’s announcement, Vithoulkas, along with Henrico County Public Schools Superintendent Amy Cashwell, recognized supervisors and School Board members in attendance before inviting them up for a group selfie with the crowd.

Cashwell and Vithoulkas’s selfie with the employees and board members in attendance. (Photo courtesy John Vithoulkas)

“I want you to know, as employees of the county and school system, nothing is possible for Dr. Cashwell, for myself, without these elected officials – the Board of Supervisors and the School Board – working hand in hand to make things possible for you, the employees,” Vithoulkas said.

“There are localities all throughout the commonwealth, all throughout the nation, all they do is get up every day and fight,” he said. “That is not who this county is.”

Following the announcement, Brookland District Supervisor Dan Schmitt described the budget proposal as an ability and willingness to reward employees and give back to taxpayers in light of the county’s budget surpluses.

“When we have surplus dollars like we have in the personal property tax and the real estate tax, let’s give it back,” Schmitt said. “It’s their money; it’s not government money. If you can provide the same high-quality services in the same fashion, then let’s do that and give the surplus dollars back to the rightful owner, and that’s the folks that live in this county.”

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Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
19 days ago

I understand that there’s been an analysis of the City’s tax rate that recommends that the tax rate be cut ten cents to$1.12 but the study hasn’t been publicly released. I have not seen that study nor do I know for sure it exists. Its just scuttle but tat this point.

Victoria Woodhull
Victoria Woodhull
19 days ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

Bruce, that would be GREAT if the City reduced their tax rate, but I am doubtful. I’ve owned property in the city for years and have yet to see my taxes go down—literally never. SUPER frustrating to see larger and more expensive property in Henrico have less annual property taxes than a modest City home. Every jurisdiction plays with the tax rate (reduce) then end up with more revenue due to increasing the assessment. At least Henrico seems to keep up their side of the bargain of maintaining the public schools/roads/sidewalks/utilities, etc.

Michael Morgan-Dodson
Michael Morgan-Dodson
19 days ago

I think the year (I want to say 2001 or 2004) they took the rate from out 7 or 8 decimal places to the current 1.20 was the last time (and only time this century) we saw an tax cut. Assessments did not go up that much that year and the rate cut lowered taxes a little but since then the greedy Council has found reason to keep the rate that high despite enormous assessment increases over the last 20 years.

Brian Glass
Brian Glass
18 days ago

In 2011 we moved from the Fan to Henrico County. I can attest to the fact that Henrico County is the best managed government entity that I have lived in in my 80 years.
The next valuable addition will be the new Henrico reservoir, that I believe will open next year and supply the growing water needs of the county for the next 50 years! California, as an example hasn’t, built a new reservoir in over 50 years, but little Henrico County began the process in early 2000 to address the needs of the growing county.