Pay Raises But No Tax Hike In Proposed Budget

Published 5:09 pm Thursday, April 11, 2013

BUCKINGHAM – In what appears to be a remarkable feat during a time of unfunded mandates and a slowed economy, the county's FY14 budget proposal, which does not call for any tax hikes but includes three percent raises for both county and school division employees, is ready for public hearing on Monday, April 15, at 7 p.m.

Following its March 20 budget work session, the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors approved the $42,882,485 budget proposal and tax rates for advertisement.

As proposed, the tax rates, based on every $100 valuation, echo the current $0.44 for real estate and public service corporation, $4.05 for personal property, $2.90 for machinery and tools; $1 for merchants capital and $0.55 for aircraft.

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Budget Introduction

The budget work session began with an overview by County Administrator Rebecca Carter, who prefaced her introductory comments by explaining that some of the numbers she would be going over would change because they had received additional information from the school division about an hour prior to the meeting.

Carter began with her traditional reminder that the budget is contingent upon receipt of all anticipated state, federal and local revenues. Offering that she was proposing a balanced budget, the county administrator added that she was doing so without any proposed tax or fee increases.

She said the total recommended budget has a beginning year balance of $4,881,385, representing an unrestricted beginning year balance of $4.2 million and $681,385 for committed economic development with money received from the sale of properties in the industrial park.

Sharing a quick overview of some of the major increases in the budget, Carter listed $150,000 for the Piedmont Regional Jail; $641,523 in debt service for the school complex on Route 20; and $500,000 to cover VRS, pay increases and step increases for school employees.

Continuing, she said the increases include approximately $60,000 to provide the county's share of the state's three percent pay increase so that all county employees receive the raise; and some minor increases Carter said she would point-out as they go through each line item.

Outlining how she was proposing to meet the increases, Carter recommended paying off or escrowing the debt service on the County Administration Complex, which includes the new county administration building and the renovation of the older for the health department and social services.

Secondly, Carter said they were anticipating an increase of about $820,000 in the public service tax from the Bear Garden Power Station. Noting that the additional revenue from the plant is not a “surprise” and was anticipated to help pay for the debt service for the school project on Route 20, the county administrator stressed that the tax has reached its peak and will now start to decline as the plant depreciates.

Thirdly, the county administrator said there is increased money from the state to accommodate those pay raises for departments and agencies with state-funded positions.

Explaining that she anticipates changes in the budget as the county proceeds through the fiscal year, Carter said the budget includes approximately $200,000 to cover uncertainties such as what is going to happen with the new federal health care program mandating health insurance for employees who work over 29 hours. She added that the school board would be facing that issue, also.

School Budget

Noting that she and Karl Carter, assistant county administrator and finance officer, have been working with Superintendent Cecil Snead and Sandy Wier, finance officer for the school division, Carter began her more in-depth budget presentation starting with the school's portion.

Along with Dr. Snead and Wier, members of the school board were on hand for the work session, as they were during a pre-budget meeting with supervisors in February.

Emphasizing the need to watch the school budget because it is climbing a half-million to a million each year, Carter said her initial recommendation was for an additional $500,000 to cover a three percent raise, the step increase, and the three percent VRS.

However, Carter explained another variable has been added-the cost of a program dealing with disability insurance that VRS used to provide.

In turn, Wier provided the most recent breakdown of the cost for the proposed raise, step increase, VRS, and the disability component.

“What's going to happen is we end up with an increase in payroll of $591,000 in order to do this,” said the school division's finance officer.

After the boards and administrators discussed areas of the budget and shared funding concerns and ideas, it was the consensus of both boards that the transparency shared by each group was indeed productive and appreciated.

When Carter concluded her overview of the school budget, Chairman Ed Wise, before adjourning the school board, offered, “I'd like to thank you for your cooperation.”

Stressing that the raises were long overdue, he assured supervisors that if they approved the money the school board was requesting for those raises, they could be assured that the funding would definitely be used exactly for that purpose.

Carter advised that supervisors would be deciding later on during their work session how much they would be recommending for the school portion of the budget.

More Budgetary Commentary

Continuing with her presentation, Carter went over the proposed revenues. While highlighting an anticipated increase of $17,000 in sales tax, she offered, “I always like to see that because it means people are spending more money in the county.”

Noting an anticipated decrease of $10,000 in revenue from the sale of county decals, Carter explained that the number of decals being sold has decreased although the number of vehicles has not, meaning that some residents are not purchasing the county decals.

Responding, Supervisor Bill Talbert reiterated his stance on doing away with county decals and adding the fee onto personal property taxes. He explained that those who do not pay their personal property taxes would be unable to get their state licenses and registration from DMV.

Supervisor Donnie Bryan noted that with county taxes due in April, if he went to get his license in January, he would not be able to do so.

He added, “There is no borderline there. DMV is going to say until your taxes are paid, tough.”

Talbert, offering that the situation could be handled through the county treasurer, said he has been to several counties that have done away with the decals and they have experienced revenue increases every year. “And they haven't had any problems. Some way they have worked it out,” he stated.

Bryan suggested Talbert talk with the commissioner of the revenue. He shared that at first, he thought it was a good idea until he talked with her and dug a little deeper. “It's a nightmare, especially for local mom and pop who live on a fixed-income. DMV doesn't care who you are if your taxes are not paid.”

As she continued going over the revenues, Carter also noted a decrease in the number of dog tags being sold.

Overall, the county administrator said anticipated local revenues total $14,144,216. Reviewing general fund revenues, federal and state funding for schools, public assistance, comprehensive services and other revenues, she said those figures along with utilities' revenues, funds from the sale of county property, and the beginning year balance of $4.2 million added up to total revenues of $42,882,485.

Moving to the expenditure-side of the budget, Carter offered an in-depth report of the request and subsequent recommendation for each county department.

For most of those experiencing an increase, the county administrator explained the need to accommodate the three percent pay increase for employees not funded by the state along with the increases in health insurance and VRS.

While reviewing the law enforcement budget, Carter noted this was the first time she has seen more county funding than state funding for local law enforcement.

Responding to a question from Supervisor John Staton about the number of deputy positions being funded by the county, financial officer Karl Carter reported that the county is paying for two of the 17 positions.

The county administrator, noting an increase in the category of contributions to colleges and agencies, said she was proposing funding several additional requests.

Carter's recommendations included meeting the request of the Central Virginia Community Health Center to provide $2 per county resident receiving services at CVCHC for a total of $8,850.

Additionally, Carter recommended $5,000 for Ellis Acres Memorial Park; and $10,000 for the Buckingham Active Seniors, a program overseen by the county's recreation department.

After the county administrator completed her overview, Staton asked about the request from Crossroads Community Services. The county administrator advised that she was recommending fully funding Crossroads' request of $36,000, instead of the $32,960 the county has provided for the last several years.

Staton questioned the increase and said it was his understanding that Crossroads had decreased some services to the school system and the sheriff's office. Subsequently, he requested that the county administrator verify that information prior to the public hearing on the budget.

Talbert, who currently represents the county on the Crossroads Services Board, and Chairman Monroe Snoddy, who served as the representative for several years, shared that they thought the funding was some of the best money the county spends.

Board Acts on Budget Proposal

At the conclusion of Carter's presentation, Supervisor Cassandra Stish led with a motion to accept the school's request of $91,117 to the additional appropriation of $500,000 previously recommended by the county administrator.

After a second by Supervisor Joe Chambers, the motion passed with six supervisors voting in its favor and Supervisor Bryan, who is an employee of the school division, abstaining.

Subsequently, the board, with a unanimous vote, approved for advertisement and public hearing the county administrator's recommended $42,882,485 budget with the amendment adjusting the school portion of the budget an additional $91,117.

Four Public Hearings Set for April 15

On Monday, April 15, in addition to its public hearing on the FY14 budget proposal and tax rates, the board of supervisors will also conduct three other hearings.

Those hearings include a road abandonment request from Bethlehem Baptist Church to abandon approximately 500 feet of Route 699, Winfrey-Inez Road; and a special use permit request by the Buckingham Cattlemen's Association for an agricultural business that will include a livestock auction barn and meeting facility located on property along Route 60, approximately one mile west of Buckingham Court House.

Additionally, the board will conduct a hearing regarding whether to rescind the county's current rifle hunting ordinance and adopt as an ordinance, “There are no county regulations on hunting game with firearms in Buckingham County, Virginia, other than those set forth by the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and any applicable federal laws.”

That hearing will also include whether the county should adopt an ordinance relating to hunting with a firearm that would state, “It shall be unlawful to engage in hunting with a firearm between the ditches of any primary or secondary highway. Any person who violates the provisions of this ordinance shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.”

The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the Peter Francisco Auditorium located at the Buckingham County Administration Complex on Route 60, at 13380 W. James Anderson Highway.