Cumberland County supervisors look ahead during budget talks

Published 4:40 pm Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The main hurdle for Cumberland County as it heads into 2024 involves competition. As supervisors discussed the upcoming budget during a Tuesday, Dec. 5 workshop, County Administrator Derek Stamey said the problem is that they need to increase salaries or risk losing employees. Many employees can simply cross the county line to Prince Edward or Powhatan and earn higher paychecks for the same positions. 

To keep competitive pay, Cumberland has had to eliminate and combine positions. Add that to some rising costs and you have a projected budget of $41.8 million for fiscal year 2024. 

Stamey started the meeting with some good news. In fiscal year 2023, the county saved $860,000 in administrative costs with a two-year saving total of $2.3 million. This was able to happen due to grants, completing projects in-house and not using consultants for those projects. 

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The county was also recognized by the Virginia Association of Counties Excellence Award for the development of parks and master plans for the second time in two years. Cumberland is the smallest county to be recognized. 

FUNDING FOR PROJECTS 

When looking at the capital improvement projects to come and those already completed, Stamey reported that these projects came without any additional debt or by putting funding in a dangerous place. These were funded by the American Rescue Plan Act money (ARPA) and rollover fund balance.

“These projects that we identified they serve and expand public safety, they protect existing county assets and they also improve the quality of life of our residents,” said Stamey. “We made sure that we took on projects that met the needs of everybody.”

LOOKING BACK AND AHEAD 

Since 2022, the county has worked on 31 capital projects. Some of these projects include the broadband initiative, safety signs, Randolph Fire renovations, cascade systems for air tanks, an implemented maintenance work order system, upgraded HVAC at the courthouse, server upgrades, part of the Piedmont Jail Security Tower, reroofing the extension office, purchasing crane truck for the utility department and a generator for Pump Station 12 at Bear Creek Lake. Additional projects include the comprehensive plan, the EDA parking lot and sheriff’s vehicles.

Currently, there is $397,536 in an unspent amount. Stamey recommends holding onto these funds and not making any plans for them yet. He wants to wait and see what the future brings and then revisit it later. 

There are a few projects on hold that don’t need to be addressed at the moment, but the county can plan for them down the road. These include the radio project, a connector trail with a 50/50 grant, old jail work and a utility line repair under Route 60.

“I’m recommending that we stop the projects and hold tight and monitor the FY24 budget expenditures and potentially come back to the board in the future for recommendations on projects if at all,” said Stamey. “I want to be conservative and pump the breaks so to speak.”

Looking at the capital improvement plan (CIP), this is the first year in a long time the county has been able to fund it. The total is $300,000 which is only a portion of the $1.85 million requested. According to Biran Stanely, chairman of the board of supervisors, this is good for the county as they will be able to fix infrastructure problems instead of spending more money to continually do temporary fixes. 

The 25-year CIP is blocked into smaller five-year sections to help Cumberland County stay on track. One of the goals is to have the debt service paid off by FY30 so that the county can borrow for bigger projects without continuing to constantly borrow. One of the projects slated after this is the courthouse renovations. 

“When you’re making decisions about projects that bring revenue to the county, that 25-year CIP helps to give you the perspective of okay is this a 25-year project?” Stamey said. “Are we going to see revenue for 25 years or 30 years? You have that laid out for yourself so you can make the best decision possible.”