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Halifax County Sheriff’s Office, schools face possible cuts

Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed budget amendments could spell funding reductions for the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office and Halifax County Public Schools.

“If the governor’s budget is passed as read, we could lose two deputies,” said Sheriff Stanley Noblin Thursday.

“And take home pay for our already underpaid deputies would be decreased by 5 percent,” the sheriff added.

Under the governor’s proposal, all state employees would contribute 5 percent of their salaries to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS), the state pension organization.

McDonnell is promising a 3 percent pay raise for state employees and is asking localities to raise the pay of their employees by 3 percent, thus creating only a 2 percent net decrease in employees’ take home pay.

“Over the past decade, investment losses have occurred more frequently and more dramatically than before,” said Gov. McDonnell in a recent speech to members of the Senate Finance, House Appropriations and House Finance Committees.

“As a result, the funding status of the state employee and teacher retirement plans have fallen dramatically since 2001, and the decline is projected to continue, with the state system only 61 percent funded by 2014, and the teacher system only 57 percent funded,” the governor said.

Under McDonnell’s proposal, over $300 million in additional contributions will be paid into the VRS Trust Fund in fiscal year 2012, resulting in $4.2 billion in new money over 10 years.

Sheriff Noblin said he is gathering all the numbers related to his department, and more information on the possible effects of the governor’s proposed budget amendments on the sheriff’s office will be featured in Monday’s edition of The Gazette-Virginian.

Bill Covington, Halifax County Public Schools chief financial officer, said the school system is facing a funding shortfall from the state of approximately $1.5 million.

“The governor is proposing removing the composite index hold harmless’ provision,” Covington said. “Last year the General Assembly approved freezing composite index rates.”

The Local Composite Index (LCI) is a formula that determines how much school funding a county or city would get from the state government. Historically, the LCI has always been adjusted every two years to account for changing local economic conditions.

The LCI assigns each school division a score, such as “.75” or “.51,” based on the locality’s adjusted gross income, taxable retail sales and property tax base. The lower its score, the more money the locality gets from the state government for basic education, and vice versa.

Halifax County has experienced an artificially low index since the county absorbed students from the South Boston school system when South Boston reverted to town status in 1994. Removing the freeze on the LCI would result in a loss of $1.5 million in state funding.

Regarding the governor’s proposal to require all state employees to pay the 5 percent to the VRS, Covington said, “We’ll have to wait to hear more about this.

“Last year they said state employees hired after July 1 would pay the 5 percent to the VRS, and they left the choice up to the local school systems to pay the 5 percent for the employees or not. Our board chose to pay the 5 percent.”

Covington said things would probably change when the General Assembly meets. “They could do something that will alter what the governor has proposed,” Covington said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”