‘Are we in a good spot?” Prince Edward supervisors go over budget

Published 3:51 am Thursday, April 18, 2024

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Prince Edward County is being asked to pay more. If you just took that sentence alone, you could copy and paste it throughout most of the budget discussions held this week. As Prince Edward County Administrator Doug Stanley laid out this year’s proposal, he outlined several places where expenses will be going up. 

And that starts with Prince Edward County Public Schools. In a work session on Tuesday, April 16, district superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson explained that they were asking for a $31.757 million overall budget, with the county portion translating to roughly $11.5 million. 

For part of that, you can blame the state. Every two years, counties are rated for the LCI or Local Composite Index. This is the rating that determines the district’s ability to pay for educational costs to meet what’s considered the Commonwealth’s standards of quality for schools. To get this number, the state looks at adjusted gross income, taxable retail sales and the true value of real property in a county. Basically, the lower your LCI, the more funding you get from the state. And you can probably guess where we’re going with this. Prince Edward’s LCI went up this year. 

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“What that means is a shift of 1% from the state’s budget to our budget,” Stanley said. “That impacts us.” 

The school district is also having to absorb the loss of several million dollars, as the grant programs set up during COD are expiring. That’s not always something you can reapply for, as some of those were always meant to be temporary. Add that to both a mandated 3% salary increase and rising health insurance costs and you end up with a district asking for more money just to keep the same level of service going. 

Impacts on Prince Edward 

How does that impact Prince Edward? The answer is that it’s one of several things pulling money from the county. The local jail is another. After last year’s escape attempt, the U.S. Marshals Service pulled all federal inmates from Piedmont Regional Jail. Prince Edward had been receiving funds for housing them. Without that money, the county has to find the funding elsewhere. In this case, it adds another $100,000 into what county officials pay to help keep the facility operating. 

The news wasn’t all bad, however. Local revenue is up $1.995 million, a 6.5% increase going from $30.776 million last year to $32.771 million. Real estate tax revenue remains stable at $9.75 million, up from $9.52 million last year. Personal property taxes are also stable, going from $6.3 million to $6.55 million. Sales tax revenue also spiked, going from $3.8 million to $4.2 million.

That increased revenue offset the higher expenses in many areas, Stanley said, allowing him to propose that the real estate tax rate remain at 51 cents per $100 of assessed value. A 51 cent rate would keep Prince Edward in fourth place in the region.  Lunenburg is first at 33 cents, Amelia is second at 38, Nottoway is third at 48. Buckingham, if it approves its new real estate tax rate Monday, would be fifth, tied with Cumberland. Charlotte comes in sixth and Appomattox will finish seventh. 

It’s a juggling act, Stanley said, due to Prince Edward’s limited resources. 

“The reality is we can’t always make the improvements when we want, and we have to wait until we have available funding to be able to do it,” Stanley said. “(And yet), every single project on our capital improvement plan, we’ve been able to complete it or get substantial progress.” 

What about the ICA? 

Stanley also explained that he didn’t include revenue of any kind from ICA Farmville, the detention facility for illegal immigrants that Prince Edward just signed a contract with. As part of the deal, each day detainees are counted, the number is reported and Homeland Security each month gives Prince Edward the money, based on what management company Abyon charges. The county also gets paid in this deal. 

As part of the subcontract with Abyon, Prince Edward takes a daily payment per detainee out of what they get from Homeland Security. The subcontract anticipates a minimum of 264 detainees per day, again a bump from what has been allowed. If the facility houses up to 459 detainees on a given day, Prince Edward gets paid $2.50 for each. If the number is above 459, the county gets paid $4 per detainee. 

Stanley said he prefers to keep that funding in his back pocket. He had originally hoped to allocate it to the capital improvement plan, for use on construction projects. But now he’s just holding back. 

“I don’t want to let go of that until we know what’s going on with the sales tax,” Stanley said.
“That’s a good card to have in our deck if we get dealt that hand from the state.” 

He’s referring to HB805, which Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed earlier this month. The idea was to raise sales tax in Prince Edward by 1%, with that money going toward debt service each year on the Prince Edward Elementary renovation. 

Is Prince Edward in a good spot?

So with all of that, supervisors asked, are we in a good spot? 

“Do you feel like we’re in a good spot?” Harrison Jones asked. With reassessment coming next year, he said, will the county be able to lower its tax rate and balance things out? 

Stanley said it was still too early to tell. 

“I think number one, there’s two big projects, the elementary school (renovation) and Sandy River (water expansion),” Stanley said. “If the sales tax issue comes on, it’ll take care of our needs (at the school) and maybe even give us some cash to help with Sandy River. We’ll be able to fully answer once we know what’s going on with the elementary school project and Sandy River.” 

As this was just a presentation, the board agreed to recess until April 30 at 7 p.m., where they’ll discuss the current budget proposal.