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Constitutional Offices To Feel Fallout Of State Budget Cuts

Local budget wrangling is just getting started with members of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors facing a $910,510 shortfall between expenses and revenue, according to Finance Director Stephanie Jackson. Schools are in even worse shape with an approximate $5 million cut in state funding looming.

When supervisors met during their two-day retreat last week at Riverstone, they reviewed department budget requests.

In past years, the board has asked departments to trim spending. However, this year supervisors are asking for constitutional officers to absorb all potential state cuts and asking outside agencies that receive county funding to cut their current year budgets by 5 percent.

The county’s constitutional offices – clerk of court, sheriff, treasurer, commissioner of revenue and commonwealth’s attorney – have been hit hard.

All five are predominantly funded by the state, which is facing a $2 billion deficit this budget year.

Sheriff Stanley Noblin said last week if the cuts proposed by former Governor Tim Kaine stand as they are now, his office will lose seven deputy positions.

The sheriff submitted a budget request of $2,508,000, a $7,000 reduction over the current budget.

The sheriff’s office currently has 42 full-time positions, with the county funding one full-time position at a cost of $80,000, according to Finance Director Stephanie Jackson.

In 2008 the sheriff’s office received 10 new cars, but since that time no capital budget requests have been included in the budgets.

According to a survey conducted by the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, 83 percent of chiefs of police responded they will be making cutbacks in the purchase of needed equipment, such as communications systems and replacement of worn-out patrol cars.

Also, 82 percent reported they will have to cut even more out of their training budgets, and 56 percent reported they may have to lay off police officers. Some Virginia police chiefs responded that they will have to cut back or eliminate certain programs, such as school resource officers, crime prevention programs, school crossing guards, community policing programs and animal control officers.

Halifax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Kim White said she is preparing for the worst but hoping things are not as bad as everyone is expecting.
Her office currently is looking at a $40,000 state reduction in funding to be absorbed.

The commonwealth’s attorney’s office has 11 full-time employees with the county subsidizing $35,000.

White said according to Virginia law, her office must prosecute felony cases. With the degree of budget cuts proposed, she said her office would not be able to prosecute lesser offenses.

“Police officers would be on their own in the prosecution of DUI cases, domestic violence cases, larcenies from businesses and homes, and other misdemeanors,” she said. “With a reduced staff, we would have to focus on felonies, but we would just have to tighten our belts and still try to give assistance to officers.”

White said all the lawyers in her office are on call 24 hours a day.

Also under discussion on the state level is eliminating the personal property car tax relief that would take $1.5 million from Halifax County taxpayers.

“This is the money we receive from the state for personal property tax relief. We started receiving it about 10 years ago, and it is based on the first $20,000 of vehicle value,” Jackson explained.

Although this state money comes directly to the county, it is passed on to county taxpayers through their personal property tax relief.

State legislators also have discussed no longer funding the commissioner of revenue and treasurer’s office in an effort to force localities to absorb those costs into a county finance department.