Thu04242014

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Seeber takes committee members, town staff to task over proposal

After a citizen-packed special meeting on Wednesday night in which all 21 citizen speakers favored level funding for the school system, the Budget and Administration Committee chaired by Sparky Ridgely convened on Thursday, June 23, to revisit the proposed budget.

Ridgely opened the meeting by saying, “In an effort to try to meet the public’s wishes, we looked for guidance from the town attorney.”  Ridgely urged the committee to recommend approval of the advertised budget, advertise a tax increase in July and approve an amended budget in August that would provide level funding to schools based on increased tax revenues.  According to Ridgely, “That is the legal way to do

that.” 

The proposed 2011-2012 budget presented to the public, which had been approved by Ridgely’s committee, provides the state-set minimum Required Local Effort for beach schools in the amount of $1,530,596 and separately includes a 1 percent raise for school staff in the amount of $77,900. 

Council member Gary Seeber reminded committee members that $1,078,859 for town school funding is specifically collected in ad valorem tax revenues that would otherwise go to Westmoreland County.  Seeber noted he “agreed” with Westmoreland Supervisor Larry Roberson who admonished Town Council at its June 22 meeting for only providing the Required Local Effort for schools saying, “You have the ‘gold mine’ — you are only paying about a half-million for it.”  

Funding Colonial Beach schools has long been an issue between the town and the county.  In 1993 an agreement was reached on a formula that calculated what percentage of tax revenues would stay in town to fund town schools.  That original agreement became effective in the 1994-1995 fiscal year and remained in effect until 1999.   However, because of the disparity in student population between the town and county schools, that agreement resulted in the town owing money to the county in its first year of application.
 
Under legislation passed on April 8, 2000, the town was granted specific authorization to collect, in order to fund town schools, an amount equal to the percentage of ad valorem tax assessed by the county to fund county schools. According to Westmoreland County Administrator Norm Risavi “This amount is what you would be paying to us if you were part of the county school system.” 

The premise put forth by Seeber and Roberson is that the town already has $1,078,859 in projected revenue earmarked for town schools for 2011-2012 according to the formula agreed to by the town and county.  In order to fund the minimum required effort proscribed by Virginia DOE, the town only has to allocate an additional $500,000.  If the council decides to level fund the school at the same amount as last fiscal year, the town would only have to allocate $700,000 to meet the $1,757,850 amount funded in 2010-2011.  That amount, $1,757,850 is the amount the school board requested for this upcoming fiscal year as the local effort.

According to Risavi, the 2000 legislation “is not real clear” if it is mandatory that the town use the percentage prescribed by the county of the ad valorem tax revenue for only school funding.  “Historically, they have applied those funds to schools,” Risavi noted. 

Seeber also took to task the revenue totals projected in the budget.  According to Seeber the revenue totals for personal property and real estate taxes do not reflect the additional $0.25 per $100 value that the town will keep due to Westmoreland County recently allocating an additional 25 cents per $100/value for county schools.  The total of those projected revenues are expected to be an additional $13,000 revenue to the town. 

Seeber further admonished the committee “Four times in public I have said we have to change the tax rate.”  To date, no action has been taken to change the tax rate to reflect the 25 cents per $100 change recently passed by the  Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors.

Seeber also questioned Chief Financial Officer Joan Grant on the projections for the real estate, personal property tax and sales tax collections.  According to Seeber, “The sales tax has gone up every year for the last three years,” yet the proposed 2011-2012 budget reflects a decrease in expected sales taxes.  Grant acknowledged her projections were low saying that “it’s very difficult to project personal property taxes — it’s a moving target.”  Grant noted that collections were a problem and  “If I can’t attain it because the numbers are not attainable, I don’t want to held accountable.”  Grant had previously reported to Town Council that a new collections system and collection person is in place and collections are up for her office.  
Tempers flared among the council members present with council and budget committee member Karen Payne saying “I won’t pass a budget on magic numbers.”  Payne also noted that she “takes offense to some of the things that have been said here tonight about town staff.”  Mayor Fred Rummage wanted to know “Why was this money not found before now?” 

Seeber further opined that the budget committee “is not doing the job they are supposed to be doing” and added “When you don’t do it by law and you don’t do what you should do, I’m going to call you on it.”  
Seeber and council member Mike Ham are expected to review the revenue totals in the proposed budget and make adjustments to the totals, which are expected to add an additional minimum of $80,000 in revenue to the 2011-2012 budget.   Seeber and Ham will meet with Town Manager Val Foulds to revise the 2011-2012 budget.  A new proposed budget will be presented at a Town Council Special Meeting called for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 29, at Town Hall.  The deadline for passing a new budget is Thursday, June 30.

 

Kathy Flanagan

 

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