Administrator Talks Budget

Published 6:11 pm Thursday, March 29, 2012

PRINCE EDWARD – While the General Assembly may finally be winding down its budget process, County supervisors are beginning theirs in earnest.

County Administrator Wade Bartlett kicked off the spring season with a financial overview as well as a budget recommendation that calls for level funding for the schools and no tax increase at a Tuesday afternoon meeting.

More budget work sessions are planned for the future as the board plods through the adoption process and officially make a final budget their own.

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“There are many demands on the Board to increase funding to various constituencies but to do so would have required a tax increase,” Bartlett wrote in a memo outlining his budget proposal to the board. “While the Board of Supervisors recognizes the economy is improving slowly, they also recognize there are still many citizens who are struggling. The Board instructed me to develop a budget that would hold tax rates steady, prove a 3.6 percent COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) to County employees which is equal to the COLA provided to social security recipients in January, maintain core service levels and fund the public schools and charitable organizations at the same levels as in FY12. This budget recommendation achieves those instructions.”

The total budget (deducting transfers between funds) is $42,062,414.

Among the specifics:

*The proposal factors the transfer of $8,106,652 to the County's schools. While the county administrator cites it is the same amount as the current budget, he also states that it is an increase of $415,750 in available funds “for the School Board to use to replace loss of state funding or cover increased costs.” The increase is due to the reduction of $189,210 in debt service and factors $226,520 that was given last year as a one-time bonus for school employees.

*Although there are no additional costs associated with the move, Bartlett has recommended a change in operational hours for the cannery where it would be closed on Wednesdays, but afford Monday evening hours from 4-7 p.m. and open the second Saturday of each month from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

*While the County has a landfill construction fund-revenues from customers from outside of the county are accumulated and used for closure and construction of landfill cells-there is apparently no need to close a cell this spring as had been anticipated. That, he speculates, could come at the beginning of 2014.

*Health insurance rates have increased 5.7 percent, translating into about $34,000 more in costs; Virginia Retirement System rates are increasing from 15.11 to 17.25 percent, adding about $65,000 to retirement cost.

*Also recommended is the elevation of the Building and Grounds section to a department level under the title of Public Works. Bartlett cited savings in many in-house tasks normally contracted out in the past saving the County “tens of thousands of dollars.” He also cited that he anticipates the department assuming vehicle maintenance responsibility in the coming fiscal year, saving additional taxpayer dollars. He proposed reclassifying the building and grounds supervisor to the Public works director and increasing the position to grade 21 and step five with a salary of $56,165.

*The County administrator also factored $30,000 to replace aging computers and printers, $60,000 to purchase two vehicles for the county sheriff, and $60,000 to purchase vehicles for county administration.

*Bartlett cites that the budget is balanced, but requires the use of some fund balances. He has suggested that they use $416,003 from the fund balance of the General fund and, after deducting the non-cash depreciation expense, $244,039 from the water fund and $93,106 from the sewer fund-or a total of $753,148.

That, the county administrator suggests, can be funded from the increase in the current fund balance.

“Almost every department in the County has under-expended its budget,” Bartlett wrote. “I want to commend all County employees and Constitutional Officers and their employees for the hard work necessary to achieve such a positive outcome. The fund balance increase of $917,461 will play an important role in the FY13 budget…”

The current fiscal year has actually been better than expected. Although he projects the fund balance to dip $81,664 and finish with a cash reserve of $7,205,548, it is much better than anticipated.

“The initial budget adopted this time last year called for a draw from the fund balance of $637,344,” Bartlett detailed.

Add to that, over the budget year, supervisors appropriated $150,000 to the school for HVAC equipment, $390,000 to purchase the Glad Hill property, that $220,000 will be spent with the creation of a revolving capital fund for the volunteer fire departments/rescue squad, and chipped in $50,000 to purchase two cars for the sheriff's department.

“The ability to absorb almost this entire amount will be the result of revenues exceeding forecasts by almost $800,000 and expenses being less than the budgeted amounts by almost $550,000,” Bartlett wrote.

Collections of general property taxes ($500,000) and local sales tax ($119,000) “were major drivers of the greater than expected revenues,” he outlined. Savings were registered in debt service ($186,000), Comprehensive Services Act ($130,000), refuse ($54,000) and general property ($60,000) budgets being under expended.

Overall, he projected the fund balance for the current fiscal year will increase to a total of $12,294,340 and have cash of $10,561,019. (The latter figure includes $328,169 in the school cafeteria fund and can only be used for costs associated with operation of the cafeteria and $1,101,551 in the landfill construction fund.)

Future Prospects

Bartlett also assessed that the proposed budget “comes amid a slowly improving economy,” and noted that unemployment in the county fell to 8.5 percent in January compared to 9.4 percent the January of the previous year.

Additionally, he offered, “We are seeing an increase in the number of business prospects displaying an interest in Prince Edward County. The future looks more promising now than it has for three years. Luck Stone is still proceeding on the opening of the quarry, we have two local businesses that are set to expand, and new real estate projects are about to begin construction.”

Bartlett also added that he is “hopeful” the Granite Falls project will develop. (That project includes a hotel, conference and training center planned for just south of Farmville.)

Still, the county administrator noted, he did not factor revenue growth from those projects into his revenue calculations.