Supervisors Get A Fiscal Earful
Published 4:04 pm Thursday, January 3, 2013
CUMBERLAND – December's Board of Supervisors meeting was full of financial tension, with many citizens attending to comment on the financial state of the County and board members struggling to maintain a balanced budget in light of several unexpected expenses.
In addition to the $11,477.23 approved to pay two Piedmont Regional Jail invoices, the supervisors also approved the appropriation of $11,869.95 to complete the payment of a contract originally budgeted for the previous year.
Also during the meeting, the supervisors awarded a contract to D & A Contractors for the installation of waterline connections to low-to-moderate income homes using grant monies and referred a conditional use permit application for an outdoor shooting range in northern Cumberland County to the planning commission.
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Eight citizens spoke to the board regarding the County's financial situation during the first period of public comment. Karen Nyce spoke first from a prepared statement. She spoke for many of those who followed her, most of whom thanked her for her comments before beginning their own.
A resident of District Five, Nyce felt that the County is too heavily dependent on citizens for its tax base because its “no growth policies” have scared businesses away. She summarized the problem, “We have no income except taxing the citizens and we have more out-go than we have citizens' ability to pay.”
Nyce concluded, “the only way to solve this is to reduce the size of government and freeze spending at the county level and at the level of the county school board. The two largest employers in Cumberland County are, number one, the Cumberland County school board and, two, the County of Cumberland.”
Nyce stated that she had provided Supervisor Lloyd Banks, District Two, with some suggestions based on research she had done of other counties with similar problems and the creative solutions they had used. She encouraged him to share these suggestions with the other supervisors.
The statements that followed also revolved around concern over the high tax rate and unchecked spending.
Kurt Haselman, a dentist and business owner, commented on Cumberland's high tax rate in comparison to surrounding Counties, a sentiment that was repeated by others. He told the supervisors, “In order to increase revenues, you have to be more pro-business. To be more pro-business, you need to lower the tax base. Entice people to come.”
Stephen Donahue, District Five, asked, in regard to taxes, “How much is enough? If you raise it this time, well, will you raise it next time and the next time after that and the next time after that?” He went on, “The problem is not a revenue problem, the problem is a spending problem.”
In regards to spending, Leo Henderson, District One, commented on the difficult economic times and called for common sense, summarizing for the others who commented, “if we don't have the money, we've got to make the hard choices.”
There was a repetitive theme throughout the comments, which Fred Wodell, District Two, pointed out. As he began to read from a prepared statement, he added, “hopefully, repetition is worthwhile.”
Directly following the public comments, Supervisor Banks thanked those who spoke and said, “I just hope my peers on this board will listen to your concerns…I think the agreement in this county is that we need to very closely watch our expenses and the last thing taxpayers need is to have to pay additional taxes.”
During board comments at the end of the meeting, Chairman David Meinhard, District Four, also addressed the public's comments, reminding them that “Cumberland County, this board of supervisors, is currently operating on a balanced budget that we passed last year without raising any taxes.
“We also, in response to some citizen comments tonight, did, as we passed those items that were spending money, put into effect that we are going to look for the appropriate cuts in the budget to balance those expenditures out…”
“I also want to remind everybody that we are in a really tight financial bind with taxes because we are in a situation with taxes that, right now, approximately 47 percent of every tax dollar that we take in goes out to pay on the county's debt. So we have a dog gone small amount of tax revenue that we can spend on anything.”
Following a vote to release previously budgeted funds immediately for Madeline's House and add an additional $500 re-appropriated from the Piedmont Area Transit fund, the board voted to appropriate $11,869.95 to finish the payment of a contract awarded during the previous fiscal year.
County Administrator and Attorney Vivian Giles reported that “the funds were appropriated in the prior year;” however, the amount being requested was withheld “pending completion in a satisfactory manner.” She went on to clarify that the funds went back into the general fund when the current budget year began because they had not been used. She stated that the work was completed.
All voted in favor, expect for Banks, who opposed the appropriation.
Banks then commented that the almost $12,000 was not budgeted for the current year, but had been put into reserve since it had not been spent the previous year. “I am of the opinion that if we go and make additional expenditures that we should find room to make equivalent cuts.”
Supervisor Bill Osl, District One, pointed out that this was an issue regarding the timing of the calendar. “We sometimes have money that we've appropriated, that's in there, work has been done, that could have been paid, but it didn't because of the timing of the calendar. It's nothing else that was involved with it.”
He went on to state that it is fine to use a small portion of the previous year's surplus in the current year if needed.
Banks, however, took issue with the idea of a surplus, stating that the county has over 40 million dollars in debt. “If I happen to have money in my pocket and I owe other debtors, I don't know if that's my money or surplus or slush…”
Ingle said he understood the need to look for funds to replace the appropriation, “but we do have to make sure that Cumberland County pays the bill…We're going to have to sit down and try to figure out where…we can find it at.”
Meinhard concluded that it is a bill that the government has to pay.
The tension over unplanned expenses only grew as the board then addressed the issue of a request to appropriate $11,477.23 for two Piedmont Regional Jail invoices, which was approved by all except Banks, who was opposed.
The board unanimously voted to award a contract to D & A Contractors of Rice for the installation of waterline connections between the Route 60 waterline extension and the homes of low-to-moderate income families along the extension.
The contract is funded by grant monies made available by Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, Inc, also known as SERCAP, of Roanoke, to help low and moderate income households afford the hook-up fee for the newly extended waterline.
The County is responsible for installing the waterline within the right-of-way, Director of Economic Development Greg Baka explained to the board, but it is the homeowner's responsibility to install hookups from the water meter at the edge of the right-of-way to their house. Qualifying individuals will receive the hook-up at no charge.
A pre-proposal meeting was held October 31, during which Baka explained the particular requirements of the project. D & A Contractors were in attendance along with one other company. The County received a total of five bids.
The lowest bidder requested leave to remove their bid, according to Giles. The bid was $8,000 less than the next lowest made by D & A Contractors.
In a letter to the administration, the lowest bidding contractor requested permission to withdraw their bid, stating “due to a calculation error my bid is incorrect.” The remaining three bids were at least $13,439 greater than that of the next lowest bidder, D & A Contractors.
During discussion, Supervisor Parker Wheeler, District Five, stated “due to all the controversy and the conception of what's happening on this, I move that we award it to the next lowest bidder of the contract.”
The board then voted unanimously to grant the lowest bidder leave to withdraw from the bid.
Wheeler then moved that the contract be awarded to the now lowest bidder. The board unanimously approved the motion.
According to the approved resolution, 22 homeowners along Route 60 and Fleming Road were identified as meeting the low-to-moderate income standards.
The total grant is for $35,000. The remaining funds not used by the bid will be set aside for low-to-moderate income homes on the planned eastern extension of the waterline. Any remaining funds beyond that “may then be distributed in a Lottery System for non-LMI [Low-to-Moderate] homeowners to provide their individual waterline connections,” according to the approved resolution.
Giles announced that Commissioner of Revenue Anita French requested that $1,000 be specifically appropriated for reassessment supplies. The funds were available within the department's budget, according to Giles, French simply wanted them to be clearly designated as useable for reassessment supplies. Four members voted in favor of the re-appropriation with Banks abstaining.
The Cumberland Planning and Zoning Office received an application for a conditional use permit for an outdoor shooting range earlier in the month of December. According to a memo by Planning and Zoning Director Bret Schardein, the property is located at 49 Holly Hill Lane, at the intersection of Holly Hill Lane and Ampthill Road, approximately 2.5 miles north and west of Cartersville.
The application stated that the request was to “construct shooting ranges, meeting rooms, office, storage rooms, kitchen and restrooms. A controlled environment for target practice and for classes for gun safety and proper use and handling of guns/weapons. Six (6) full time employees to include licensed coaches.” According to the application, there are no existing buildings currently at the 140-acre site and it is currently zoned as general agricultural.
The four members present voted to refer the application to the planning commission. Banks was absent at the time of the vote.
Schardein reminded the board that the planning commission would be holding a public hearing for the cell tower application on Thompson Road during their January meeting. The planning commission will be meeting on January 28, since the original date scheduled, January 21, is Martin Luther King Day.
Baka gave a summary of economic development in the county for 2012. Of note were the following:
He reported on expanded businesses during the past years, such as the Dollar General which doubled in size by relocating. He stated that management indicated a sales increase of 10-20 percent over the previous year. True Value expanded by purchasing the Marion's Grocery building.
New businesses reported on included Northfield Ministries, plain and simple Marketplace, Affordable Tire and Our Daily Bread. High Bridge Trail State Park also opened this year.
Baka noted work under construction, including the ABC store; Baxter Enterprises' gas station remodel and expansion; two Crossroads Services buildings; and the East Coast Rib and BBQ Company.
Baka also reported on sources of revenue. For example, the Industrial Development Authority brings in $3,700 a month by leasing out the Community Center.
Additionally, he reminded board members that Cobbs Creek Reservoir generates a lease payment of $1,131,000 annually.
In the future, the wireless tower at the maintenance shop is expected to generate $10,494 per year.
He also reported that even though the new landfill is not open, it generates an annual payment of $500,000. If it opens in the next two or three years, payments are expected to increase to $750,000 or more.
He reported that the Commissioner of Revenue's office expects to receive about the same amount in business licensing fees as it did in 2011, just over $71,000. The average sales tax per month received by the Cumberland Treasurer's Office was about $31,000, with projected revenue of $375,000 for the year of 2012.
He also reported that each 90-foot cell tower typically adds between $200,000 and $250,000 in taxable real estate to the county.
The board moved into closed session following the second opportunity for public comment, citing a discussion of personnel matters regarding assignment, performance and salaries. When the supervisors returned into open session there were no motions and Banks was not present. According to Chairman Meinhard, Banks did not remain for the entire closed session.
The board approved a Resolution of Appreciation for Zachary Atkins Wilson who recently completed his board review for the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America.
The resolution noted that Wilson had “worked tirelessly with the Farmville YMCA to build an outdoor stage for children's activities and outdoor exercise classes.” He has been a member of the Boys Scouts since he was 11, according to the resolution, and is currently a junior at Cumberland High School.
It was resolved that the members of the board “wish to congratulate Mr. Zachary Wilson on his accomplishment and express their appreciation for his contribution to Cumberland County.”
Lou Seigel, from District Two, took a ride on the Piedmont Area Bus, like he had promised the board several months ago, and reported back during the first public comment portion of the December meeting.
He reported that three other passengers rode when he did, each paying only 50 cents to ride. “I thought I was back in the 40's or 50's. Fifty cent bus ride? And the County is paying $10,000 to help support these people?”
He was also concerned about the redundancy and time of the route, as well as the diesel fumes. After the three-hour ride, he said he returned home with a headache and in need of some aspirin.
During board member comments, Supervisor Bill Osl, District Five, suggested that Giles compile and edit some of Seigel's concerns regarding his bus ride and submit them to the bus company.
Eric Hougland, park manager of High Bridge Trail State Park, gave a report to the board during the December meeting.
He discussed the opening of the park's key feature, the bridge, this year. He first pointed out that the contract was awarded to a Cumberland business, adding, “I was personally glad to see somebody locally be awarded the contract.” It took 13 months to complete the rehabilitation of the bridge.
So far, 181,315 visitors have come the park, double the previous year's number of visitors.
Hougland shared on the various services the park provided for visitors, including programming, interpretive services and increasing accessibility.
He pointed out that while the park is not convenient, with the closest parking lot nine-tenths of a mile away on River Road, it is accessible. He also encouraged individuals who need to do so, to feel free to use electric wheelchairs. Individuals with disabilities are also able to contact the park office and apply for permission to use golf-carts at the park.
Hougland also shared that groups can make reservations on the second and fourth Thursday of each month to drive, escorted, to the bridge from the River Road parking lot along an adjacent service road. The group escort service had served 380 people so far.
The park has a full-time staff of three and a part-time staff of seven. Although this stretches them thin, Hougland said they have partnered with other organizations to ease the work load.
For example, local sheriff departments have helped them on different occasions. The park has also used 575 hours of inmate labor. The park has partnered with the AmeriCorps program and a youth conservation group as well.
There have been 1,300 volunteer hours donated to the park. He was especially thankful for Friends of High Bridge Trail, a citizen support organization.
In the future, the park is working to extend the trail into the towns of Pamplin and Burkeville at either end. Hougland felt that getting a true trailhead at each end would be a great benefit to the park and the communities it serves.
He also announced that, like all other state parks, High Bridge Trail will begin charging a parking fee on January 1, 2013. The cost will be $2 on weekdays and $3 on weekends. Frequent users can purchase an annual pass.
Scott Shippee, assistant residency administrator for Dillwyn, reported that mowing was completed for the primary roads and was being completed on secondary roads. He said that over the next few months work on brush clearing and chipping on secondary routes will be completed, as well as stabilizing gravel roads as needed. VDOT is also preparing for potential winter weather that may occur.
Supervisor Kevin Ingle, District Three, commented on how pleased folks were with the job the department did with the cleaning of Cumberland Highway before the Christmas parade, but added with a laugh, “the only problem is some of the people that…are a little further up 60 asked if they could get the same treatment.”
Superintendent of Cumberland Public Schools Dr. Amy Griffin did not give her report during the December meeting as usual. Instead, she introduced high school senior Mason Dukes, the student liaison for the school board, who shared highlights of the school for the board.
Dukes discussed the school's advancements in technology usage, strengthening of student government and outreach to the community.
In the middle school, he pointed out the usage of the iPad cart, which is especially helpful in science and math courses. He also shared the benefits of using the middle school computer labs to teach students how to write and format papers, making them better prepared for high school.
He shared specifically about increasing student government body participation in the high school. Some students attended a seminar at Hampden-Sydney College, learning about the college's means of student discipline through the honor board. He added, “we are trying to encourage our student body to become more empowered citizens.”
He also announced that over $1,300 was raised for the school's basketball program through the annual alumni basketball game. He also congratulated high school student Mary Huddleston, who was featured on the TV series “The Real Winning Edge.”