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More budget talks; joint meeting with School Board set

After the King George public has its say this week on Tuesday (following our press time) at the public hearings on the 2012-13 budget and a proposed 4-cent tax real estate increase, Supervisors will do more talking about it at tonight’s meetings on Wednesday, April 18.

Elected officials will meet in three sessions one after the other on Wednesday evening, the day following the public hearings, to get down to some more details, including a joint session with the School Board to talk about its budget for next year.

The current state funding plan calls for a significant increase for school divisions, if the General Assembly follows through on conferee agreements. That action could provide a recalculation for local funding.


Likewise the proposed budget contains a 10-percent increase in health insurance for the School Board as a guess, but actual figures should now be available to adjust the expected costs for next year.

In addition to the School Board joint session, Supervisors will also discuss budget matters separately and how changes in state funding affect the locality. In addition, there will be another meeting session of the Service Authority to review various models for possible new rate structuring for water and sewer and/or an across-the-board increase, which would continue to follow a five-year plan put forward by financial consultants, as for the last couple of years.

STATE BUDGET PROPOSAL
The state budget and how it affects local funding is still in flux (at our press time) with last week’s agreement by General Assembly budget conferees slated to be put to a vote this week.

That has numerous provisions, including some in regard to handling the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) deficit.

Conferees agreed to a phased approach for both school and county employees. If that holds up, it would lessen the impact on the county proposed budget, which contains the full five-percent hike in VRS, as advertised.

There are numerous other state budget provisions that also need to be ironed out regarding the affect on localities once the dust settles in Richmond.

One includes a possible three-percent employee bonus in December 2012, contingent on possible state revenue surpluses and unspent balances. That salary action would cover employees of local constitutional officers and other state-supported local government employees.

It’s not clear how that contingency would be budgeted for at the local level. A county budget amendment later in the year might be the way to address that, if the state money for bonuses actually materializes in eight months.  
During the county budget process, Supervisors were given a full opportunity to review every area of spending, large and small, in addition to revenue projections and comparisons with previous years.

As usual, some Supervisors appeared to be more engaged than others, with Dale Sisson and Joe Grzeika taking the lead in knowledgeable discussion during the numerous budget sessions.

REAL ESTATE TAXES
A local budget cannot be adopted until a week or more after its public hearing. But a tax rate can be adopted at any time if there is no increase. A higher tax rate can also be adopted without delay following its public hearing.
County administrator Travis Quesenberry proposed a budget that, if adopted, would need a maximum tax increase of three cents. But with all the state budget changes affecting funding to localities, that amount may not be necessary to balance a revised budget.
The tax increase proposal urged for advertisement by Dahlgren Supervisor Ruby Brabo at the April 3 meeting, with concurrence by colleagues John LoBuglio and Cedell Brooks, is expected to get more discussion.

It’s unclear whether there are three firm votes for an increase and, if so, whether it would go up the full four cents. The current real estate/mobile home tax rate is 50-cents per $100 valuation, with the possibility of it going as high as 54-cents.

Where they stand
GRZEIKA & SISSON - Grzeika wants no increase and Sisson appeared willing to consider a lesser increase, if necessary.  

But with new proposed changes to state funding to localities yet to be finalized, the outlook may not be as bleak as it first appeared.

LOBUGLIO - LoBuglio appeared to favor a tax increase only if state lawmakers did not agree to a five-year phase in for a big increase in Virginia Retirement System (VRS) for county and school employees. That phase-in now looks likely.

BRABO – When Brabo put forward the four cent increase, she said, “I’m just suggesting, because again, you can advertise a four cent tax increase and not do it.” She specifically cited her desire to add additional positions to the budget for staffing at Smoot Library and to increase two part-time positions for Animal Control to full-time.

Brabo took office in January and so far has shown a desire to expand county services, including additional paid staff positions for EMS in Fairview Beach and in Dahlgren that she talked about at her March 29 town meeting. Expanding services cannot be done without collecting and spending more taxpayer dollars.

Brabo spent taxpayer money on an unprecedented four-day national conference that caused her to skip a regular board meeting in early March.

Most supervisors do attend an annual Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) conference in November. And some also attend an annual government day hosted by the same organization and ‘new supervisor’ training also offered. Those are typical, and are budgeted expenses.

But attendance at national conferences is not the norm.

County warrants indicate that Brabo’s attendance at the National Association of Counties (NACo) conference cost $465 for the registration and $1,118.93 for four nights in the Washington Hilton, instead of commuting up to D.C. as some county residents do for their jobs.

That’s not a lot of money, but for comparison, her conference cost is higher than the annual amount of $1,000 that was added to fund an outside agency, Safe Harbor Advocacy Center, providing services to victims of child abuse. The proposed budget likewise contains cuts of $2,286 to eliminate funding for Rappahannock Area CASA, and $3,199 cut to defund Rappahannock Refuge (Hope House), as discussed and agreed to by Supervisors.
BROOKS - Brooks was more reticent regarding the reason for any potential tax increase, saying, “It gives us the leeway, if we need to.”  At that April 3 meeting he didn’t specify why he thought leeway was needed.

The full four-cent potential increase is estimated to provide about $1,000,000 additional in taxpayer revenue, if collections stay steady, the population stays stable, and the creek don’t rise.

At a previous budget meeting on March 26, Brooks talked about his wanting to raise taxes a few cents every year for school funding, saying, “I know personally, I don’t want to see anything cut from schools, I don’t want to see any services cut, because I’ve got an 8-year-old in the school system.”

At that same meeting, Brooks made another remark in regard to board stipends never going up. Supervisors are each paid a nominal $5,000 per year for their public service. It’s not much, but it is in line with a lot of counties with the same population and higher than some others.  

(Click Here for a listing of Supervisor salaries in Virginia counties, along with salaries paid to county administrators.)

Brooks has tried a couple times in the past to get Supervisors to seriously considering raising the money paid to King George board members, to no avail. But a few years ago, a resolution was passed that allowed Supervisors to opt-in to paid health insurance. Brooks is the only member that has ever opted in to that benefit. This year’s cost to the county for that expense is budgeted at just over $9,100, with a similar expense next year, 2012-13.

Phyllis Cook

 

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