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PE Approves County Budget

PRINCE EDWARD – County supervisors met last week and, while the water debate was set to percolate in district meetings county-wide, passed a lot less contentious budget that includes no increase in personal property or real estate tax rates.
Specifically, the board approved a total budget of $57,529,024 and set tax levies 42 cents per $100 for real estate, 70 cents per $100 of assessed value for merchant's capital, $4.50 per $100 of assessed value for tangible personal property, restoring the machinery and tools rate to $4.20 per $100 of assessed value (it had been eliminated in the middle of the current budget year) and continue a zero rate for farm machinery and livestock.

The motion was approved with Leigh District Supervisor Don Gantt opposing. He pointed to an increase in the overall budget.

Still, a projected plus of $632,623 in the fund balance in the current fiscal year will help towards what was detailed as some one-time expenses ($386,174) in the new budget and offer funding for a three percent bonus for school employees ($226,520).

School Budget Also Approved

The overall County budget also includes the school budget. Board members, following some discussion, agreed to increase funding by $226,520 so the school board (though not bound by the board of supervisors action) could provide a three percent bonus for school workers. (The school board, with level funding, was looking to provide a 1.5 percent pay raise but had sought an additional $275,000 in County funds that would have allowed them to provide a pay increase of three percent.)

Whether the board was dipping into the general fund or using carryover funds was a matter for some discussion.

“The money we save went into savings,” Gantt commented. “We call the savings account the general fund. When you go take the money out of savings, we take it out of general funds.”

Vice Chairman Howard Simpson commented, “…We're in here to run and operate a county and look after our employees, not to see how much money we can put in a savings account.”

Supervisors agreed to fund the school budget with a separate motion prior to approving the overall budget-defeating a substitute motion from Gantt that would have funded the school budget following the County Administrator's proposal (with level local funds) and to table a one-and-a-half percent bonus-for the monies for the added three percent bonus.

The substitute motion failed on a three to five vote with only the support of Lockett District's Robert “Bobby” Jones, Gantt and Farmville District (701) Supervisor Jim Wilck.

Discussion of County and school funding issues at times meshed.

Farmville District (801) Supervisor Mattie Wiley early in the discussion said she needed to look at the fact that it would be unfair and not just for her to sit there and vote on pay raise for the County school and not be able to give County employees a raise.

She would also suggest that they need to do something.

“…I just want it to be in the minutes that we are not promoting a pay raise for the…school board,” Ms. Wiley would comment later in the meeting. “In my opinion, it would be unfair if we did this. However, we are giving them the money or proposing to give them the money. Now, if they come up and have enough to do a three percent raise, that's their business. As long as everyone knows we are not doing a raise. We are doing a bonus. We are implementing a bonus.”

The school budget passed on the 5-3 vote.

Jones, earlier in the discussion, pointed to housing values falling and that it was something they would have to deal with in a few more years when they reassess property values.

“I know they deserve three percent, but…I don't think we can over-extend ourselves still yet…” Jones said.

County Health Insurance

Following some discussion, the board agreed to rescind their prior action and to reinstate the County's health plan options available to County workers. Supervisors had changed the options and increased the deductible at an earlier meeting. (The board had moved from Key Advantage Expanded and Key Advantage 250 to Key Advantage 500 and Key Advantage 1000 plans. Depending on the plan, workers would have a deductible of $100 or $250 for a single subscriber instead of the $500 or $1,000 options under the Key Advantage 500 and Key Advantage 1000.)

“I was wrong because I thought it would save each member that had a family plan $1,200 a year or $100 a month,” Hampden District Supervisor Charles McKay commented. “I have found out since that very few people are on the family plan. Plus, I have talked with a lot of people with the County and everybody says the same thing…The raise we would like but the main thing is keep the health insurance like it is.”

Gantt, who opposed rescinding the board's previous action, noted that if they stay at a $100 deductible and the claims stay where they are, the price is going to keep going up.

McKay suggested keeping the policy as it is this year and that the County administrator look into options for those who work for the County-to get a better insurance at a better price.

“That animal is not out there,” Gantt would comment.

McKay cited that if it's not out there then they can't do it.

Jones, who voted to return the same health care plans, suggested that sometime down the road they would probably have to tackle it. He cited that if it comes up “next year where we have one of these large increases like last year-which was almost 14 percent-we might have to do something.”

Simpson agreed they'll look at it next year and cross that bridge when they get to it.

He noted, “…These people sitting out here are the…backbone (of) Prince Edward County.” He added that they are the ones “that do the work for the County and take care of the County and we need to look after them.”

Jones agreed, but said the other part of the backbone “is the person out there working and trying to earn enough money to afford to pay health insurance themselves.”<br />
Gantt said he felt like “I've represented the people that sent me here.”

Campbell, who has insurance through the County that he pays for, offered disclosure from the outset and participated in the discussion and the vote.

“You disclose the conflict when you're a member of a group that it affects, then you can vote,” County Attorney James R. Ennis cited. “(The) problem with last time was you had already entered into the discussions before…You didn't have the opportunity to declare the conflict so you had to abstain. But, that is not the case this time if you disclose before the discussion ensues and file the disclosure form that the County provides, then you are entitled to vote even though you have a personal interest because you're a member of a larger group.”

Campbell would note as the discussion wound down that he had talked with one worker who said she came to the County because of the benefits, taking a $5,000 a year pay decrease.

If they didn't have benefits where they were, Gantt would comment, it's going to cost more than $5,000.

In Other Discussion

*The budget factors a three percent bonus for County workers equal to three percent of the employee's salary (up to $50,000 of that salary and a minimum of $100), which would cost $113,000.

Gantt, who opposed along with Jones, noted prior to the vote that it brings workers up four-and-a-half percent in bonuses so far this year.

“This is a jackpot day,” Gantt said.

Jones would offer after the vote that he would have voted for one and a half, noting they have already received one-and-a-half.

*Supervisors opted not to put funding for the Mary E. Branch Community Center and instead chipped in $23,000 to the Southside Family YMCA to fund a summer program to be held at the school.