Split Vote On Cumberland Budget

Published 5:14 pm Thursday, May 10, 2012

CUMBERLAND – The County's proposed budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year went through a complete overhaul before being brought back for adoption by the Cumberland Board of Supervisors on Tuesday evening.

This overhaul, which resulted in decreases from what was originally advertised, came via three Supervisors during a work session with the County's administration.

At the end of the drawn-out evening on Tuesday, the 2012-2013 budget was adopted but there was a split vote and much dialogue occurred over agreeing and not agreeing to the slated cuts.

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Cumberland's original budget, which included utilizing rollover and reserve funds, was presented during a public hearing in April and then, that original budget was also up for adoption on April 10 but the vote to approve that budget failed on a two-to-three vote. So, with the passage of the budget failing in April, the budget was, again, on the agenda for adoption on Tuesday.

The same two Supervisors who voted for the original version of the budget, Parker Wheeler, District Five, and Bill Osl, District One, during April's meeting stated during Tuesday's meeting that they did not receive notification related to a budget work session that had been scheduled for Tuesday, May 1.

According to the comments made, the Board's Chairman, David Meinhard, District Four, called that work session for the purpose of discussing the budget.

After the work session last week, The Herald contacted Cumberland's County Administrator for a budget update and was told, “There are some proposed changes but, no, I have not-we have not finished making all of those changes yet.”

Vivian Giles, the county administrator, offered, “There were several things discussed amending various items in the budget but I'm not prepared to-I would rather have the draft budget in front of me. We're still putting in the numbers is what I'm trying to say.”

According to the extensive discussion that unraveled during Tuesday's meeting, those two Supervisors did not see the meeting notice until after checking their email accounts and finding a “reminder” about the meeting and, at that point, it was too late.

“I had no idea the meeting was scheduled,” exclaimed Supervisor Osl once the budget discussion commenced on Tuesday, May 8. “I was not notified that we had scheduled a meeting…”

“I was not notified either,” interjected Supervisor Wheeler.

“Nobody contacted me about scheduling a budget workshop to see if I was available or not available or anything else,” explained Osl. “I didn't even know it was scheduled until after the event.”

Wheeler continued, “It's common courtesy to see, if you are going to schedule a workshop, if all of them are available. That was not done.”

The work session referenced by the two Supervisors was held on Tuesday, May 1 at 7 p.m. in the County's basement conference room.

“Obviously there was a meeting that I missed totally,” said Wheeler before taking his comments in another direction. “…Did someone appoint a Board of Supervisor member to go around-to go to a civic meeting in front of 25 people and threaten one of our staff members of his job? Was someone appointed to do that on behalf of the Board…”

Wheeler addressed Supervisor Lloyd Banks, District Three, and said, “You did. You went and you threatened an employee in front of 25 people and you do not have the right to do that. You don't have the right to go around bullying people and it seems that's what you like to do is bully people…I think you personally owe him an apology in public.”

Banks responded, “There was some discussion about economic development in the county and I made the comment that people want to see some results. Now, I don't believe anybody will stand up in this room and say that I threatened anybody. I believe that I live in a free society where I can go anywhere I want and say anything I want whether you like it or not.”

“I don't have the ability to threaten anybody and take anybody's employment,” added Banks. “I'm sorry. I want some results from every employee in this County. I want some results.”

Banks continued speaking and addressed the work session that was held on May 1 and the budget results that came out of that meeting.

“…There was also an update sent by email as to what those numbers represented. So please don't try to deceive people by saying that you just found out today what the numbers were. You had the numbers several days… If you chose not to come or you couldn't come we're not going to start all over and have a four-hour meeting just because you didn't decide to come…and no one has to explain anything to you. The numbers are right here. You have the option to say yea or nah.”

Supervisor Osl addressed the idea of “common courtesy” to call Supervisors before scheduling a meeting.

“I got a reminder which I didn't see before the meeting,” he said. “I did get the reminder but I never got the notice that there was going to be a meeting.”

Banks responded, “You have the same option-to either say yea or nah.”

“Before we schedule meetings shouldn't it be appropriate to check with Board members before a meeting is scheduled?” Osl added. “Isn't that practice that we ought to do? It's just a simple procedural question.”

At this point Chairman Meinhard said, “I wondered that night why you and Mr. Wheeler had chosen not to be there but we had a quorum there and we went on with the business.”

Osl responded, “It doesn't matter if the quorum was there since it was a workshop. You aren't allowed to take action in a workshop. You aren't allowed to do that legally. All I'm asking is common courtesy to notify Board members.”

The Budget

Due to those two Supervisors not being present at that work session, they had no input on the newly proposed slashed budget that was presented for adoption during Tuesday's regularly scheduled Board of Supervisors meeting, according to the comments made.

After the County Administrator brought the Board's attention to the handout provided concerning the amended budget at the beginning of the meeting, Supervisor Wheeler requested that she bring the entire Board up to speed on the changes by noting what had been changed and for her to “explain why each was made” before moving forward.

That budget explanation requested by Wheeler never occurred.

“Since the budget has been amended and has been amended by not the full Board,” he said. “It just so happened that there was not two members of the Board at the (April) 26 meeting and there was a workshop called and the two members did not get the proper notification of having the workshop until it was after…so I would like the County Administrator to go through and make note of what the changes were that were changed by the workshop Board and explain why each one was made before we go any further.”

Soon after the meeting debate, Supervisor Banks made a motion that “we accept the budget as revised and presented to us in its current form and it reflects a balanced budget.”

At this point, Supervisor Osl addressed the “number of errors that are in the worksheets” pertaining to the budget.

“The general fund revenues and expenses do not balance out in the budget details,” he said. “The total revenue and the total budget expenditures do not balance out. I don't know why we don't have a balanced budget. The budget proposal has items that are included in it; for example, there is a change in juvenile correction services. We have no determination as to what that number is going to be. It's on a per head count basis and we're giving the number. That's it. We can't deduct $1,000 or…it might be the right thing to do but I don't know.”

Osl also noted additional cuts and specifically noted the County's youth league and recreation department.

“They've all been cut,” he said. “Everyone of them has been cut…Now we're cutting services. The library is reduced $3,000. The municipal code-we have updates that we do. There are codes and laws that are passed and there's codes that are updated. Municipal code has been cut in half. How can you cut municipal code in half? You might be able to save a couple hundred dollars in paperwork but how do you cut municipal code in half.”

Osl also called attention to the Piedmont Area Transit Service line item reduction.

“We have people that use Piedmont Area Transit and it's been slashed to zero,” he said. “The poorest people in our county, who can't commute, now can't commute to Farmville or any other place they want to go to because we're cutting it to zero in this proposed budget.”

According to Osl's comments, he does support budget cuts but not those that are “unilaterally cut without a conversation about it.”

“…Can the rescue squad or the fire departments continue to operate?” asked Osl about not notifying the departments about the pending cuts. “We don't know. Nobody's even talked to them about it. It's just been a unilateral proposal to make these budget cuts.”

Osl added, “It's fine if you want to pass a budget that sacrifices public safety, emergency services, and the maintenance of the existing facilities. All supplies for the repairs at the school have been cut out of the budget in this proposal. $40,000 zeroed out-so there will be no maintenance in the schools basically because there's no supplies to do any of that maintenance with.”

As the budget contest continued on about the proposed cuts to the budget, Supervisor Banks noted that he needed to “clarify” some of the statements that had been made.

He said, “…The library budget is the same as it was last year so the library is asking for additional funding this year. So we are keeping the funding the same… We as individuals can't plan to spend more than you have coming in and we as a County have to do the very same thing.”

“We don't live outside of our means,” he said. “So, yes, you can go through and paint the worst picture in the world about what is in the current budget but the simple reality is that you won't see any reduction unless this sounds like it's a bad thing… You can't spend money you don't have without a tax increase.”

The County's Supervisors adopted the tax rates for the 2012 year during April's meeting. The real estate and personal property taxes are set to stay the same as the current rate.

Osl distinguished that the budget was balanced when the public hearing was originally held in April.

“That's dishonest…I'm going to interrupt you if you're telling a lie. That's dishonest! That's dishonest!” interrupted Banks.

Osl responded, “We had a balanced budget when we held the public hearing. You didn't like the fact that people under-spent last year and we were rolling those funds over to be used in the budget. That's good budget practice by the way…We don't get into budget games where people say I better use it before I lose it…and we took $198,000 out of County reserves.”

“Those reserves don't come from taxes…,” continued Osl. “It's called the reservoir and the landfill and…and we have a few pennies of that sitting in reserve. When times are tough and difficult, I think that's the time to cushion the blow a little bit and don't take all the reductions and cut all the services. That's when you use that reserve. Not a lot of it. Just $198,000 of it…and we cushion. No tax increase. No one is talking about a tax increase. We had a balanced budget when we held our public hearing and we have one now, it's just that this one doesn't use any reserves…”

The reserve was being utilized to assist with the VRS increases being felt by the County due to the state's mandate, according to the discussion. Now, those increases are being felt in the County's departments.

“Why should everyone else have to pay for that state mandate that came down to the County for County employee pensions? Why does everyone have to pay for that? Why do we have to take it out of the Sheriff's Department or all the other departments and agencies?” asked Osl.

Wheeler added to the lengthy discussion a little while later and said, “I will not vote for any budget that compromises the safety and well-being of the citizens of Cumberland County and that's what this budget is doing.”

“So be it,” responded Banks. “The motion is on the floor and if you don't want to vote. You don't have to vote.”

Banks then held up the budget summary resolution and said, “I'm voting on this budget on this piece of paper with these numbers that were provided to me today by the County Administrator and if it's a $10 difference between what's in here and what's in here (budget details spreadsheets) I don't care. I have made a motion that we approve this budget that's on this piece of paper and you can say yea or nah.”

After the argument, Osl made a substitute motion that the Board adopt the budget that was presented during the public hearing.

“I believe we have to vote on the substitute motion first but I've got some comments that I'd like to make,” advised Chairman Meinhard. “I usually like to keep my mouth shut up here and listen but I've heard so much over the last months that I think I've got to say some things…”

While reading from prepared comments, Meinhard said, “I want to see a balanced budget myself without having to dip into the County's reserves… If we were to do that our budget would be out of whack.”

Meinhard also mentioned how he originally sided with the additions to the Sheriff's Office and had at one time proposed a salary increase for all County employees during the budget process.

“When we were working on the budget under the understanding that our budget was balanced I proposed that we give some of the savings, that I thought we had made on it, to County employees. Not to break the budget but because I had been misled. I was told that our County employees had been under a salary freeze for four years and that the County employees had not received a raise in four years…

“Other select County employees have been awarded in excess of $148,000 in wage increases or salary raises during the so-called salary freeze,” he said. “…It smells.”

He also addressed the Sheriff's Office and said, “I also supported the funding for the cruisers at that time. I supported those things because I was told in the budget workshop that we had cut in enough places that we could afford to do those things…”

Meinhard continued, “We have limited ways that we can balance our budget… The third way, we can dip into the budget is by cutting expenditures by cutting services to the public…

“In order to balance the budget I proposed eliminating a deputy sheriff and the replacement of the cruisers,” Meinhard said. The reduction of the deputy sheriff was an addition that was added during the capital improvements discussion. Not an actual deputy that is on the road today.

“This might mean that the 24/7 coverage that we've enjoyed for the last several years from the Sheriff's Office might have to drop by the wayside,” he said. “To balance this budget, I'm willing to adopt that.”

Meinhard also suggested during his comments that the Sheriff and/or his deputies be “let go” of their duties of providing security during the Board's meetings.

“I feel safe having Darrell back there but if it will help him operate his department and provide better service to the community I'll give him to them,” said Meinhard.

He then listed other reduction levels and said, “In most cases to last year's level and in a few cases less than that.”

After his comments, Meinhard immediately asked for a vote on the substitute motion that was on the floor.

The motion to adopt the budget that was presented during the public hearing failed on a two-to-three vote.

Supervisors Wheeler and Osl voted in favor of this motion and Supervisors Ingle, Banks, and Chairman Meinhard voted in opposition.

The Chairman subsequently asked for a vote on the motion to adopt the budget as revised.

That motion passed on a three-to-two vote.

Supervisors Ingle and Banks, and Chairman Meinhard voted in favor of this decision and Supervisors Wheeler and Osl voted in opposition.

Then, when Meinhard asked for a motion on the capital improvements program funding, which was also reduced, there was a long pause and finally Meinhard had to make the motion to adopt the CIP listing.

That motion passed on a three-to-two vote.

Supervisors Ingle and Banks, and Chairman Meinhard voted in favor and Supervisors Wheeler and Osl voted in opposition.

The Public Speaks

The first to speak was Jennifer Beach, Cumberland County Public Library's director.

She said, “I'm speaking to you tonight with a plea with regard to the funding of the Cumberland County Public Library's budget…”

“When library budgets are cut, the state is required by mandate to proportionally reduce the needs to that library,” advised Beach about the funding cuts experienced by the library in the current and previous fiscal year. “…Our state aid is earmarked as restricted funds which is primarily used to buy books, movies, and other library materials. To make up for that shortfall in state aid, the library requested a three percent increase in County funding and it's my understanding that the Board of Supervisors is changing direction and tonight will vote, again, to provide the library with only level funding. I'm asking that you reconsider.”

Beach noted that the library “directly” serves all the members of the community with materials that cannot be found elsewhere in Cumberland.

“The library is not a high-profile agency in this County and we may seem like a low-maintenance group and in other agencies $3,000 might seem like a drop in the bucket but not with us. Not here…,” offered Beach. “Level funding at the County level will be a net decrease in our budget and I'm asking that you reconsider and fully-fund our budget request.”

Juanita Urban also addressed the Board about the library and said, “It's a huge asset to our school system. Yes, I understand that you have a certain amount of money, but you may not understand that if you cut us, the state will cut us. We watch very closely on how we spend the money. We only have three employees. One of those three are part-time. The volunteers from our county are a Godsend.”

Patty Pedrick later addressed the library's original request.

She said, “If you go through with your cut they will be hard-pressed to find high-quality services to our community residents. The library is well-used by the community and the schools and my hope is that you'll continue to support the library and the residents of Cumberland…”

Cindy Mann addressed the County's budget and requested that the Board “take another look at the budget and to make some more cuts.”

She told the Supervisors that they “haven't cut enough.”

“Coming down to a balanced budget isn't enough,” she offered. “You need to go below that.”

Victoria Walk spoke on behalf of the Cartersville Volunteer Rescue Squad.

She asked that the Board consider delaying their decision on the funding for the Cartersville Rescue Squad.

“We received notification just a few hours ago that our budget would be cut,” she noted. “…Apparently, we did not realize that there was a change in the budget process where there wasn't a work session so that, at least, Cartersville could have a voice in saying what they needed the money for…I think that is rather unjust.”

She pointed out that Cartersville is the only medical emergency response agency in Cumberland that does not charge for its services.

“We feel that this is in the best interest of our community and we'd like to remain doing so,” she said. “I'd just like to request that you delay your decision tonight and have a working meeting with the executive board when they can be present.”

Kevin Warren spoke also. He addressed the budget too.

“…From what I'm hearing you are moving in the right direction,” he said. “…You're making tough decisions and I appreciate your decision to move in the right direction fiscally.”

At the end of the Board's meeting there was also time designated for a second public comment segment.

During this portion of the meeting several citizens also spoke related to the County's adopted budget.

Lou Seigel started this portion of the meeting.

He also addressed the budget and said, “I hear the same things right here that I heard in Henrico…You wanting to cut things out of the budget could injure the county and the citizens greater than what it ever has been.”

Seigel said, “Take care of the problem now. Stop being like Washington D.C. We've got enough problems in this country. Let's not have it here. Let's be sane, sensible, and intelligible while we sit here and not listen to Board members argue back and forth who are supposed to set the example. That too is ludicrous. If you expect to lead, then lead in a fashion where people can say, 'Yeah, I went to the Board meeting and it looked like they had a real good meeting.' They are going to label this as the donnybrook of the year.”

“I've seen our taxes go up and down the scale like nobody's business,” said Seigel about the last 10 years in Cumberland. “I just got my tax bill and it's higher than what it was last year. Okay, I'll pay it because that's my responsibility as a responsible citizen…Pay attention to what you are saying and think about what you are saying. These people deserve a lot more.”

Seigel also mentioned his support for Cumberland's Sheriff's Office.

“I want to fight mostly for Darrell and his people,” he said. “…I did that job. I even thought that it would be a good idea that retired law enforcement officers in this county could be used as a reserve police officer or reserve deputy sheriff. Not to be paid. But to be sworn to have the powers to do the job to help direct traffic at your parades or anything else that you need someone. Board meetings for instance… So you might want to think about that. You want to save money. Think about utilizing the people.”

“You cut some things that I think shouldn't have been cut,” she offered. “Now, that the budget has been passed what difference does it make. We talk about the Cartersville Rescue Squad and since it's in my area I'd like to speak for them. The $2,000 might not sound like much but that's a lot to them. That's a whole lot to them.”

Budget With Cuts Adopted

After reviewing the funding numbers presented in the proposed budget that was originally presented in April compared to the new budget that was presented on Tuesday evening and adopted, The Herald has discovered a long list of reductions.

Some of those cuts include Cumberland not participating in the Commonwealth Regional Council in the upcoming fiscal year.

The CRC's membership dues, which total $15,700, were eliminated even though the CRC is currently under contract with the County for its Comprehensive Plan update that is set to be completed next year and is underway by the Planning Commission.

Additional cuts identified include the travel for convention and education line item under the Board of Supervisors. That amount was eliminated. It was originally proposed at $5,000. Another reduction is the line item for salaries and wages in the accounting department of the County; a reduction in funding for legal services in the General District Court (the original budget included a $24,000 allocation and the adopted budget stands at $8,000); a reduction in the Clerk of the Court's overall budget as well as other departments in the County; and the annual appropriation to the Cartersville Volunteer Rescue Squad was also decreased and so was the amount slated for the Randolph Volunteer Fire Department.

In other emergency services reductions, the Cartersville Volunteer Rescue Squad also saw their budget decreased.

The additional funding request, which was included in the former budget version, was also cut from this adopted budget for the Cumberland County Public Library.

The line item designated for correction and detention was also cut and so was the annual allocation to Lee's Retreat. The correction and detention was originally $25,000 worth of funding and now it is $15,000.

The animal control budget was reduced and so was the amount designated for refuse disposal.

The recreation department's budget will also experience a decrease compared to the numbers that were originally presented during the public hearing. The purchase for concessions for sale at sporting events was zeroed out. The line item originally included $7,000 worth of funding and the line items designated for football, baseball, and soccer were also reduced compared to what was originally presented.

The anticipated annual appropriation to the Piedmont Area Transit was also eliminated.

The local appropriation to the school division was also reduced by a small amount.

The School Board and central administration was originally planning to receive $3,667,049 from the County and now the school is set to receive $3,619,049.

According to Superintendent Dr. Amy Griffin, the additional request made by the School Board for the coverage of the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) increase will be covered but the school's funding for grass cutting services has been eliminated.

Dr. Griffin provided information to The Herald on Wednesday morning after the meeting.

She stated, “They didn't fund $48,000. The thought there is that the School Board would eliminate the lawn care service ($48,000) and the County would begin cutting our grass. If the School Board approves this on Monday, we do have enough to cover VRS.”

General fund revenues from local sources now totals $11,846,500. The budget previously presented had revenue from local sources totaling $12,245,330.

The grand total general fund revenue now totals $13,814,967. This is a difference of $398,830. The difference was created because the adopted budget now does not include the proposed general fund reserve amount of $198,830 or the rollover balance of $200,000.

The total general fund expenditures now total $13,814,967. The capital improvements program projects that were originally identified for funding were also reduced. The original total for that program was $160,820. The new total is $56,820. The necessary sewer pump replacement was also cut.

Debt service payments identified for the Elementary School, Middle/High School Complex, AMERESCO, the courthouse expansion project, and property leases total $3,828,863.

The revenue anticipated from general property taxes totals $8,414,500.

The resolution presented and adopted by the majority of the Board's members on Tuesday did not include the County budget's proposed total. That part of the resolution, which provides a budget summary, was left off of The Herald's copy.

In the list among other projects identified in the original plan for capital improvements was the addition of one deputy to the Sheriff's Office and two new police cruisers (one for the additional deputy and the second as a replacement). Those Sheriff's Office requests, which were originally slated for funding in the previous budget version, were slashed.

The Herald spoke with Cumberland Sheriff Darrell Hodges shortly after Tuesday's meeting about the possibility of his office not being able to continue 24/7 police coverage of the County.

Hodges' response was simple.

He noted that he'd do everything he could to keep the continuous 24/7 coverage in Cumberland.

During an earlier work session, Hodges addressed the Board about the strain that his office is currently under and the reasoning behind the request for an additional deputy.

The capital projects funding now includes $45,000 for IT replacement and upgrades and the annual appropriation of $11,820 for the existing truck payment to Randolph Volunteer Fire Department.