County’s $22.2 mil­lion bud­get holds the line

No prop­erty tax in­crease re­quired, hear­ing Mon­day

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - By Roger Pianta­dosi Spe­cial to the Rap­pa­han­nock News

Faced with a num­ber of chal­lenges, Rap­pa­han­nock County’s su­per­vi­sors and staff have built a draft fis­cal-year 2017 bud­get that is dis­tinc­tive for sev­eral rea­sons, in­clud­ing:

• For the first time in sev­eral years, the $22.273 mil­lion bud­get would not re­quire an in­crease in the prop­erty tax rate — which would re­main at 70 cents per $100 of as­sessed value (that’s a $2,100 tax bill on a prop­erty worth $300,000).

• The draft doc­u­ment — open to pub­lic com­ment at a joint school board/su­per­vi­sors’ bud­get hear­ing 7 p.m. Mon­day at the high school au­di­to­rium — re­flects a to­tal of al­most $500,000 in rel­a­tively small re­duc­tions. Th­ese are the re­sult of a line-item-by-line-item re­view of the county’s bud­get, first by Deputy County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Deb­bie Keyser and Trea­surer Deb­bie Knick and other de­part­ment heads, and then by the su­per­vi­sors them­selves, sev­eral of whom — most loudly, Jack­son District’s Ron Fra­zier — have called for such an an­nual line-by-line re­view ev­ery spring for the past sev­eral years.

“The goal,” says chair Roger Welch of Wake- field district, “was to not raise the tax rate. What’s bet­ter about this is — it’s not an elec­tion year.”

Elec­tion or not, the bud­get es­sen­tially post­pones what many be­lieve is the largest fis­cal chal­lenge fac­ing the county over the next few years: Main­tain­ing the health of its all-vol­un­teer fire and res­cue ser­vices, in par­tic­u­lar emer­gency med­i­cal ser­vices that are in­creas­ing as an al­ready older-than-av­er­age county ages and a costlier-than-av­er­age county tries to re­cruit and train younger vol­un­teers.

At the su­per­vi­sors’ bud­get work­shop in March, Keyser had pro­posed a con­tin­gency fund be in-

cluded in the bud­get, which she said could al­low the county to hire EMS pro­fes­sion­als on an ad hoc ba­sis, or as needed, rather than start down the tricky road of man­ag­ing both paid and vol­un­teer re­spon­ders, as sur­round­ing ju­ris­dic­tions (and most of those through­out Vir­ginia) have done.

That con­tin­gency fund did not make it into the bud­get.

Fra­zier pointed out that the county’s sale ear­lier this year of the for­mer Aileen plant — re­al­tor Alex Sharp paid off a mort­gage that was held by the county since three years ear­lier, when the for­mer buyer de­faulted and he agreed to take it on — in­fuses the gen­eral fund with some $266,000, and al­lows some “breath­ing room” for the county to deal with any such “con­tin­gen­cies” in fis­cal year 2017. (The fis­cal years starts July 1.)

Also not in the bud­get: fund­ing for a deputy county ad­min­is­tra­tor. Keyser had pro­posed a half-year’s salary, or $44,000, be in­cluded to pay for the po­si­tion that, in Fe­bru­ary, both County At­tor­ney Peter Luke and County Ad­min­is­tra­tor John McCarthy strongly urged the su­per­vi­sors to fund, pri­mar­ily to fo­cus on zon­ing is­sues. ( McCarthy trades ti­tles with Keyser on May 1 and of­fi­cially re­tires July 1 af­ter 30 years as the county’s chief ex­ec­u­tive.)

In part to com­pen­sate for the added zon­ing-re­lated bur­den on Luke, the draft bud­get in­cludes a pay raise, from $56,300 to $70,300, for the county at­tor­ney. Work­ing nearly full time in what is of­fi­cially a half-time po­si­tion, as Stonewall-Hawthorne District su­per­vi­sor Chris Par­rish said at the board’s April 8 bud­get work­shop, “Peter has done an aw­ful lot for the county over the last sev­eral decades, and he’s been re­ally thor­ough and he never skimped on any­thing. And so I think it’s ap­pro­pri­ate.”

By cut­ting back on other parts of the county at­tor­ney’s $108,000 bud­get, though, the in­crease over­all for the ex­pense cat­e­gory winds up be­ing just .14 per­cent.

Luke’s in­crease is the only in­crease in the bud­get for a county em­ployee — other than adding $1,000 to the county’s $8,000 an­nual sup­ple­ment to the Reg­is­trar of Voter’s salary, de­ter­mined by the state to be a part-time po­si­tion.

Em­ployee health care costs — an ex­pense that is pri­mar­ily out of the county’s con­trol — will rise 9.6 per­cent in fis­cal year 2017.

Vir­ginia’s Gen­eral Assem­bly has yet to de­cide on pos­si­ble wage in­creases for the county’s con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cers, in­clud­ing the sher­iff, com­mon­wealth’s at­tor­ney, com­mis­sioner of the rev­enue and oth­ers — but th­ese are paid, for the most part, with state funds.

The sher­iff’s de­part­ment, ac­cord­ing to the draft bud­get sum­mary, ap­pears to have the largest over­all fund­ing in­crease, about 9 per­cent, among the county’s de­part­ments — this ow­ing to the re­in­state­ment of $145,000 of an ap­par­ently er­ro­neous re­duc­tion of $155,000 in the de­part­ment’s bud­get last year.

The largest line-item de­creases were in the Board of As­ses­sors/Equal­iza­tion, re­duced 84 per­cent (or $80,950) and the plan­ning com­mis­sion bud­get (re­duced 61 per­cent, or $47,033).

The school divi­sion — the largest chunk of the county’s bud­get, ac­count­ing for about half the county’s to­tal ex­penses — had ap­proved a bud­get that re­quested no change in fis­cal year 2017 to the county’s share ($9.139 mil­lion) of its $12.7 mil­lion pro­posed bud­get. The su­per­vi­sors, who vote on the school bud­get to­tal at their monthly meet­ing May 3, de­cided to cut out an­other $50,000. The school bud­get in­cluded in the county’s draft bud­get is $12.65 mil­lion.

The school divi­sion is to re­ceive an ad­di­tional $187,449 in al­lo­ca­tions from fed­eral and state sources over last year, said Su­per­in­ten­dent Donna Matthews on Tues­day, due to a re­cent de­crease in the county’s Lo­cal Com­pos­ite In­dex.

At the same time, how- ever, Matthews said, the county school divi­sion will lose an equiv­a­lent amount in sup­ple­men­tal ba­sic aid, hav­ing reached a cap set by the gen­eral assem­bly in 2008; the divi­sion had been us­ing those funds to pay for a co­op­er­a­tive pro­gram with Madi­son County’s school sys­tem.

Sev­eral su­per­vi­sors cred­ited Keyser and Knick — and the county’s re­cently up­graded ac­count­ing and book­keep­ing soft­ware — with mak­ing it eas­ier to track rev­enues and ex­penses, and to find spe­cific ar­eas where the county could save money.

The school divi­sion — the largest chunk of the county’s bud­get, ac­count­ing for about half the county’s to­tal ex­penses — had ap­proved a bud­get that re­quested no change in fis­cal year 2017 to the county’s share ($9.139 mil­lion) of its $12.7 mil­lion pro­posed bud­get.

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