Farmville Budget Cuts Are Proposed

Published 4:23 pm Thursday, December 30, 2010

FARMVILLE – Town Council made a resolution months ago: don't wait until 2011 to begin developing the 2011-12 Town of Farmville budget.

Start working out immediately to stay fiscally fit.

The Great Recession gripping the nation precipitated greater vigilance and, if necessary, decisive action, Town officials believed, as economic indicators fell from coast to coast.

Email newsletter signup

Town Council has kept the resolution and as the calendar changes this weekend council members have already spent more time discussing next year's budget than any previous budget.

Some of the budget cut recommendations will not be uniformly popular, but they may be greeted with less chagrin than what might follow. The recommendations are also being made in time for affected organizations to prepare and respond to the possible cuts.

The first major step in the Town's new approach was appointing a Budget Committee that began meeting immediately during the summer after the appointment of Vice-Mayor Armstead D. Reid, At-Large councilman David E. Whitus, and Ward A councilman Dr. Edward I. Gordon.

Previously, Town Council has had a finance committee, which was also responsible for ordinances. The Finance and Ordinance Committee still exists but the Budget Committee, which meets with Town Manager Gerald Spates, is months ahead of the budget pace previously observed by the Town.

Among the key points emerging so far are the consideration of additional revenue sources, greater scrutiny of budget requests made by outside organizations, and a determination to guard Town taxpayers, who also pay taxes to Prince Edward County, against donating twice to various organizations-once through Town contributions and twice via County donations.

The latter issue is taken so seriously that the Budget Committee is recommending the elimination of the Town's monetary donation to the Prince Edward County Volunteer Rescue Squad, though the Town would continue providing fuel.

Local donations are routinely sought from the Board of Supervisors and Town Council, with Town officials viewing it as “doubling up” on Town residents.

Spates described it in a phone interview Wednesday as an “issue that comes up all the time” and one that has “played into a whole lot” of the Budget Committee's thinking about the 2011-12 budget.

“We are county taxpayers,” Spates said of town residents.

The issue, the Town Manager noted, is something Town Council has talked about “for years and years but now they're taking a real hard look at it and ways we can save money and not contribute a disproportionate share.”

Town officials don't want to create a hardship for any local organizations which have depended on contributions from the County and the Town as major sources of revenue, but Farmville, they say, has its own responsibilities of stewardship of taxpayer funds.

“The organizations need money,” Spates said, “but we need the money, too.”

If taxes are increased simply so that Farmville can join Prince Edward in making donations then “we hit the taxpayers again.”

Budget Committee member Whitus, also a member of the Finance and Ordinance Committee, cited the necessity wrought by the state of the economy.

“These austere economic times precipitated a closer scrutiny of our financial house,” he told The Herald on Wednesday. “The Town has always tried to keep taxes low, as we are keenly aware that we have many citizens who live on limited budgets. The budget committee is scrutinizing all expenditures as well as looking to expand the Town's revenue base.

“The basic goal of the committee is to see that expenditures do not exceed revenue, just like every citizen has to treat their own household budget,” Whitus stated.

As far as the revenue stream is concerned, Town Council has already raised water and sewer rates, effective the first billing period in 2011, and the possibility of instituting sanitation and recycling fees has also been seriously discussed.

Additionally, the Budget Committee directed Spates and the Town Treasurer, Carol Anne Seal, to research the real estate tax of other localities of similar size and population as Farmville and report back next month. Don't expect the real estate tax to be lowered.

The budget committee, meanwhile, has so far made these recommendations regarding appropriations to organizations:

Reduce the appropriation to the Prince Edward Farmville Youth Association from the $10,000 it received this year to zero.

Reduce the appropriation to the Moton Museum from the $10,000 it received this year to zero.

Cut funding to the Heart of Virginia Festival from the $2,500 it received this year to zero.

Cut funding to the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts from the $20,000 it received this year to $15,000.

Cut funding to the Commonwealth Chorale from the $2,000 it received this year to zero.

And cut funding to the Prince Edward County Volunteer Rescue Squad from the $15,000 it received this year to zero.

The Town of Farmville would continue to provide the rescue squad with fuel, cutting grass at the squad house and plowing its parking lot when it snows but the Budget Committee is recommending no monetary contribution.

“And remember,” Dr. Gordon told council members this month, “these are just recommendations…These are early recommendations before we've actually seen anything from them (the organizations) or they more or less brought their case up before us.”

Further addressing the recommendations, Dr. Gordon stressed that, “there's also the concept that we're bringing forward…the idea that Farmville citizens are citizens of Prince Edward and give through Prince Edward County. So in essence we just felt in dealing with some of these things that Farmville citizens have given already and if you live in town and have a call to the rescue squad you're basically paying twice. If you live 20 feet away over the (town-county) line you're paying once. And that's in addition to Squad Care…

“But this is not written in stone, these are just,” he said, “initial recommendations.”

Town Council, clarified council member Tommy Pairet, “will review them when the time comes.”

Dr. Gordon said the appropriation recommendations were meant to provide council members with “something to base our initial thinking on and…you can change this around. There's plenty of discussion ahead. And we have yet to hear from the different organizations.”

Each organization seeking an appropriation should submit a Request for Community Funding Form, the Budget Committee believes, along with their current financial audit and brought to the Town Manager's office.

The Budget Committee recommends that the Community Helpers ($250 as a donation to the G. Reid Scholarship), the Odd Fellows Cemetery ($5,000), SCOPE/Meals On Wheels ($1,000), the Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce ($1,000), the Farmville-Prince Edward Community Library ($35,000), and the Youth Empowerment Center ($5,000) each receive those same amounts of funding from the Town in 2011-12.

And the committee recommends continued support of FACES. The building that FACES operates from is owned by the Town and no rent is charged, with the Town also providing heat for the building.

The Request For Community Funding form asks, among other questions, how the agency or organization complements or provides a service not currently offered by the Town of Farmville, how last year's donation was used, how denial of funding would impact town residents, the total number of clients served and how many of those are residents of the Town of Farmville.

The deadline for submitting the required funding request material to the Town is May 1, 2011.

Dr. Gordon told council members this month that the Budget Committee recommends that if the information is not provided to the Town then no money should be appropriated.

“Zero it out,” he said. “I think that if someone doesn't, if we ask for something that we don't get I don't think we should be giving any money at all. And that's kind of the consensus we have.”

Of the appropriation recommendations, Dr. Gordon counseled that “this is on the assumption that everything's going to go the way we expect it to go.”

Spates said Wednesday that he believes the Budget Committee, and its monthly reports to council, is providing Town Council with “a better understanding of budget items and where the money goes and where it comes from…It gives a better understanding, a real good understanding of where we are compared to last year.”

As a result, he explained, Town Council “is taking a hard look at potential revenue sources that we've not looked at before…and expenses.

“All in all,” Spates said, “it's a good process we're going through and I hope it continues.”

The process isn't going to be an easy one, however, in the months ahead, cautions Whitus.

“The Town has borrowed for its capital projects and at times has used its operating line of credit to meet basic expenditures,” noted Whitus. “We cannot borrow funds long-term to meet operating expenses. Simply put, the Town has to live within its means and that's the direction the budget committee is taking.

“As I told the committee at our last meeting, we have picked the low hanging fruit. The next step,” Whitus warned, “is to take some measures that may be a bit more painful and not be popular.”