Sun04202014

Last updateTue, 04 Nov 2014 9pm

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BOS majority: Spend reserves to increase School Board budget

The stage has been set for this week’s King George public hearing on the budget (following our press time on Tuesday).
At last week’s budget meeting of the Board of Supervisors on April 14, a new majority of three board members emerged. That new majority appears to have been prompted in part by pressure from members of the School Board.  
Cedell Brooks Jr., John LoBuglio and James Mullen said they had each received the same chart e-mailed to them.  Brooks said his was from School Board member Dennis Paulsen, along with a follow-up phone call from Paulsen.

Chairman of the Board Dale Sisson and Supervisor Joe Grzeika were not included on the mailing. The chart was distributed at the meeting.
School Board member Renee Parker was in the audience and volunteered that the chart had been prepared by Superintendent Candace Brown and e-mailed to members.
The chart indicated the amount of the current request by Brown, which deducts savings in costs of the Virginia Retirement System (VRS), causing the School Board’s actual request to go from $34,754,448 to $33,592,323, as noted by Brown the previous week at a joint meeting.

The chart added $419,042 to that total, representing the amount estimated by Brown for the 17 percent increase in health insurance, though not included in the School Board’s actual budget request.
Brooks, who indicated prior to the meeting that reporting on his proposal to advertise an increase in real estate taxes had not played well, wanted to know, “How much is available for schools and such without raising taxes — because I don’t want to do that — without going into fund balance?”
The answer is zero.  
Deputy County Administrator/Director of Finance Donita Harper reminded Brooks that the current budget proposal already digs into the fund balance, $440,461 in addition to $1.19 million returned as surplus funding by the School Board last June 30.
“I don’t know it’s a big thing to take $2 million out of that (general) fund,” Brooks said. “I feel we ought to take the money out of that fund and give it to the schools.”
Sisson responded, “How many years can you take $2 million a year out of that fund?”
Sisson noted, “Whatever number we end up with has to be sustainable.”
He added that this week’s meeting would also include a presentation from David Rose from financial consultant Davenport & Associates to talk about the general fund.
Brooks wanted to know why it was being brought back now.
Supervisors had agreed to bring the topic back during the budget deliberations.  Harper noted that they had urged the board to adjust the county’s financial policy to set aside a higher percentage of the general fund.
The current policy sets aside 15 percent of the county’s budget, not including the School Board’s funding. It is being suggested that the county now set aside 15 percent of the total county budget, including schools.  
The total county budget for 2010-11 is proposed at $60.49 million, which would increase the set-aside from the current $4,874,100 to $9,127,350.
Brooks wanted to know, “Why are you bringing that up now?”
Grzeika reminded him it was proposed last November, with a promise to take another look at it during budget time. Grzeika also noted it would make sense to boost it to prevent potential spikes in real estate taxes due to unforeseen events.  
 “When I was first on the board 17 years ago, we had trouble making payroll and that was when that policy was written, because it was something that was realistic,” Grzeika said.
If the policy were to go to 15 percent of the total budget, Harper indicated it would leave an undesignated fund balance of $2,920,817.
LoBuglio said he agreed with Brooks to increase the amount for the School Board saying, “We have Walmart coming and that will be more revenue.”
Sisson asked, “How much do you think that will be? What is in your plan?”
LoBuglio did not have an answer.  
Actually, there is not expected to be any revenue in the next year from the 1 percent of the 5-cent sales tax the Walmart will generate after it opens.  
A building permit for the Walmart has not yet been issued, nor has site preparation begun.  Once that takes place, it is anticipated that the construction will take a minimum of a year, likely longer to complete.  
Brooks next conceded, “I think we should take $1.2 million and give it to schools.”
Sisson asked, “How are we going to generate the money for next year?” He added, “Personal property (collection) is down, real estate collections are down. If we go after that money, we can whittle it away quick.”
Sisson also said, “I think we owe it to the community to have a long-range plan to know what we are doing next year.”
LoBuglio urged, “I think we should give it to them (School Board) and then can see what they do with it.”
Supervisor James Mullen stated, “I agree with him.”  He added, “What John said.”
LoBuglio next urged, “I think we should add in that $419,000 for health insurance.”
Sisson cautioned, “We can’t fund individual items as a Board of Supervisors. You get on a slippery slope.”
But Brooks showed his support for LoBuglio’s suggestion, saying, “I have enough trust in the School Board to think that they will follow through and use it to supplement.’  He added, “I think if we stick our necks out, I believe that they will do what they do.”
But Sisson pointed out that the health insurance supplement was not even included in the request by the School Board. He added, “Going down the road of funding a specific item is very dangerous because it is not our role.”
Brooks next suggested that $900,000 be added to the funding proposal for the School Board, which would bring it up to the amount Brown said is needed with the VRS deduction.
LoBuglio attempted to boost that argument, saying, “I think we have a long time to talk about next year.”  He added, “They will not be changing administrations at the state government and that will be steady.”
But Sisson pointed out they would start budget guidance discussions in November.
And Grzeika informed LoBuglio, “We already know what the biennial budget says. And the money is not there.” He added, “We know now what we are going to get from the state, it’s a biennial budget. Don’t you read that stuff?”

Phyllis Cook
Staff reporter 

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