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Budget, tax hike hearing Monday night

Halifax County supervisors will a hold a public hearing tonight on the proposed $87.2 million 2011-12 county budget that and calls for a two cent increase in the real estate rate.

The hearing will take place in the Mary Bethune Complex meeting room at 6:30 p.m. in Halifax.

Also to be considered during the hearing tonight will be comments on the proposed $57.1 million school budget that includes level county funding of $13,256,000.

Earlier this month supervisors had considered 20 specific budget saving options totaling almost $4 million.

These options would allow supervisors to close a $2.5 million gap without raising taxes, according to Finance Director Doug Bowman.

No action has been taken on any of the proposed cuts, and supervisors are expected to further discuss these options tonight during a budget work session following the budget hearing.

One of the optional budget cuts discussed included funding the school system only the $10,396,115 required by the Department of Education — instead of level funding of $13.2 million as included in the budget — for a savings of $2,859,885.

This past year the county funded $13,256,000 in local monies to the school system that, according to county officials, is more than what’s required by the Department of Education.

Supervisors maintain the Department of Education requires the county to fund the school system a minimum of $10,396,115 for its 5,500 plus student enrollment, which the proposed budget exceeds with the level funding of $13,256,000.

Funding for the school system has the most significant impact on the budget, according to County Administrator George Nester, who noted approximately 66 percent of the budget is for school expenses.

Other cost saving options discussed include:

• Reducing hours at convenience and recycling centers for a savings of $100,811.16.

• Combining job responsibilities in agriculture development for a savings of $8,000;

• Ending contracted mowing and painting for a savings in general properties of $9,000;

• Reducing in-house maintenance for the county IDA (Industrial Development Authority) saving the county $70,000;

• Reducing the Halifax Opportunity Fund that provides enterprise zone and other economic development incentives to the actual FY 2012 requirement for a savings of $190,000;

• Cutting local funding to the improvement council budget to include only grant monies received for a savings of $24,778;

• Reducing the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center to level funding received in FY 2010 for a savings of $12,778;

• Not filling the extension agent vacancy and not replacing a retiree for a savings of $41,641;

• Reducing the transfer to the Department of Social Services to what they have actually used in past years from a savings of $177,658;

• Not picking up the projected 15 percent increase in health insurance for employees for a savings of $180,630;

• Increasing the transfer station tipping fee from $49.50 to $53 generating $65,000 in additional revenue;

• Reducing the board of supervisors’ wages by five percent for a savings of $2,648.19;

• Reducing the subsidy for four full-time constitutional employees for a savings of $144,150.32;

• Reducing travel/education/convention by 50 percent for all departments for a savings of $41,700;

• Eliminating contributions to entities not mandated or governed including $15,200 to the Area Agency on Aging, $13,086 to the Halifax/South Boston Museum, $13,538 to the Longwood Small Business Center, $7,852 to the YMCA and $3,194 to Old Dominion Resource Conservation.

Total of all savings excluding the school budget options is $1,121,664.67.

When the $2,859,885 school reduction is included, the 20 options total $3,981,549.67 in possible savings to the county.

As presented to the board, the proposed budget without any of the 20 proposed cuts would require using $2.5 million from the general fund balance or raising real estate taxes to make up the deficit, Finance Director Stephanie Jackson explained.

Reflecting a 6 percent increase over last year, the 2012 budget calls for no capital purchases, no salary increases for county employees or any of the agencies funded, no hiring of new full-time employees, a reduction of outside agency requests to 5 percent less than what they received in the current budget year and no new funding arrangements.

The proposed budget also included a two-cent real estate rate hike, raising the tax rate from the current 43 cents to 45 cents.

Supervisors are not expected to take any action on the budget following the public hearing tonight, but they have a meeting scheduled at 6:30 p.m. next Monday, March 28, when they are expected to adopt the budget and set tax rates.