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Westmoreland Supervisors set to adopt new budget

The Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors conducted the annual hearing on the 2012-2013 budget last Thursday night and will reconvene at 9 a.m. this Friday morning in the George D. English Building to officially adopt the budget that becomes effective as soon as July 1.

County Administrator Norm Risavi began the May 17 deliberations with an overview of 2012-2013 budget considerations. The real estate tax rate will be two cents higher, but the school division’s additional $558,447 will be utilized to support school employee salary enhancements.

A delegation requesting additional funding for the Northern Neck Free Health clinic attended the May 17 public hearing. The county currently contributes $14,250 to support the Kilmarnock-based charitable organization’s outreach efforts in Westmoreland. A spokesperson asked the county to contribute $31,552 in order to better reflect the level of services received by county residents.

County School Superintendent Rebecca Lowry addressed the Supervisors and expressed satisfaction that “the Board of Supervisors acknowledged our requests were valid and made them a [funding] priority.”

Acknowledging revenue shortfalls associated with local business closings, she commented, “I hope we weather the bad economic environment.”

Resident Larry Hinson applauded the two-cent tax hike, relating that he had no problem “because I know it’s going to the schools. We ought to support the health clinic, too, because everybody is in need.

“Have a great year,” Hinson told the members of the Westmoreland County Board.

Kennon Morris followed Hinson to the podium and advised that he was speaking for himself and for “a majority of the people in the Citizens Association.

“This is the first time I’ve seen the Board of Supervisors and the School Board really work together,” Morris said of the two boards’ recent efforts to develop the 2012-2013 budget.

“[Working together] is a good thing. All of us know how important it is to get the students ready to leave here and have good jobs so they can come back later.

“Times are bad here in Westmoreland. Most of the property is worth less than at the time of the last reassessment. Sales rates are as low as they are because the assessment values were so high. If you raise the taxes this year, then taxes will have been raised for some or all for three of the last five years. This has been particularly hard for people on the water.

“After the first increase, people asked where the money was going. I’m conservative and this county is conservative. That’s a good thing. When all the money wasn’t spent, it went into a reserve account because everyone understood that we would need it during a recession.

“The county has a $10 million reserve with over $4 million that’s unassigned. In my lifetime I don’t believe Westmoreland ever funded the schools correctly. Everybody’s had to tighten their belt and right now I’m not sure the people can stand a two-cent tax hike. The $4,000,000 in the unassigned reserve should be used instead to support the county’s schools.

“We were always told that the reserve funds were being held for tight times. This time the additional money should come out of the reserve instead of putting another two cents on the people in this county. That reserve money is the taxpayers’ money. Do what you need to do, but take the additional money from the reserves instead of from the taxpayers. This county has been hit hard and I don’t think it has gotten any better.”

A Westmoreland Education Association (WEA) presentation immediately followed the comments delivered by the local Citizens Association spokesman. The county school division teacher and homeowner thanked the Supervisors for delivering a budget with the requested additional funding for Westmoreland County schools.

The WEA spokesperson then told the Supervisors that the teacher salary improvements resulting from the 2012-2013 budget proposal aren’t enough to keep experienced teachers from leaving their Westmoreland school division jobs.

“It’s not enough to keep the teachers here,” she said.

“The comments we received haven’t fallen on deaf ears,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Darryl Fisher stated when the public hearing ended.

“We tried to come up with a fair and balanced budget that can meet the needs and  accommodate unanticipated adjustments. We will look at any changes that may be needed and we appreciate the input we received tonight.”

 

Betsy Ficklin

 

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