“I like the way it’s put together. I think he’s done a wonderful job. It’s a lot of clarification. You know exactly why things are the way they are, it’s color coded — it’s very well done,” said Mozell Booker (Fork Union District).
Steve Nichols, county administrator, presented a budget that cuts taxes yet includes raises for employees, capital improvements and increased the school funding based on budget to budget analysis.
Now the budget Nichols presented, with preparation assistance from various county staff members, is now handed over to the supervisors to debate. The supervisors could use this budget to shape their debate or could completely throw it out and start fresh. Something that has been more frequent of recent history.
If the initial reaction of the supervisors individually is any indication, they might just keep this one for a base to work on.
“I think he did an outstanding job,” said Don Weaver (Cunningham District).
Joe Chesser (Rivanna District) said, “It was very well done. I know it was very well done, very thorough, fair. I think it is a very good budget. The only issue still in my mind is schools. I want to see how that comes out.”
School funding drives a large portion of the total county budget. The county administrator’s budget includes a slight increase ($700,000) from last year’s budget, but still less than the schools received from the locality over the course of the year.
“I look forward to [the School Board's] presentation. We don’t even have it yet. It is all guess work right now (the money the School Board will request) but I think we are real close,” said Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District).
The school system received over $900,000 of additional appropriations over the course of the year as stopgap measures. Part of the agreements with the appropriations were they were one-time measures and even one of them was to be taken out of the Fiscal Year 2014 budget.
“I think the combination of $900,000 of spending cuts from the schools, plus an additional $1 million from the county end of it, I think that is a good start. I think that is a good compromise at this point in time,” said chairman Shaun Kenney (Columbia District).
One spot that Nichols is highly conscious of is pay and benefits for county staff. He made it a point to include some type of cost of living increases and also pay raises to get salary levels to be more competitive.
“Staff just needs a little bit of boost in giving them a little bit of a raise to tell them we do value and appreciate them,” said Booker.
The big surprise was accomplishing both increase in school funding from last year and pay for staff, while lowering the real property tax rate by $0.02 per $100 assessed.
“It is a two cent decrease in equalization at 79 cents. That means, if it stays there, people we get a decrease in the real estate taxes,” said Weaver with delight.
“Obviously the recession is pretty deep. I think that affects families, schools, deputies all in the same way. It is going to take time where we start putting things back where we had to take them away.
“For the taxpayer, for deputies, for schools, I think it is a good initial start and I think it is a good place to start the conversation,” said Kenney.
Now the supervisors will get their chance at discussing the budget in a group setting for the first time.
“It’s a good start. We need to tweak it. We all have our own individual areas of where we want to tweak but I think we real close to agreement with each other of where we got to be,” said Ullenbruch.
Those tweaks will more than likely include some hammering points each supervisor discusses regularly. One Chesser frequently mentions is infrastructure projects and specifically water to the Zion Crossroad area.
“We might do some other things for infrastructure. That may come out of this too. We’ll have to decide that pretty soon,” said Chesser.
“I’m looking forward to [the discussions] this year, I am,” said Weaver, the longest tenured supervisor.
The next budget work session is Feb. 13 in the Circuit Courtroom. The session will focus on revenues and expenditures plus have presentations from local agencies.