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Halifax County board makes dent in budget deficit

Halifax County Board of Supervisors has narrowed the budget deficit from $2.5 million to $881,951, and finance committee members are scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon to finalize cuts needed to balance the proposed $87.2 million 2011-12 county budget.

County Finance Director Stephanie Jackson told board members during their meeting Monday night that changes have been made to the use of fund balance since the budget process got under way leaving a deficit of $881,951.

One change involves $15,000 in lost revenue that had been budgeted but will not be realized due to the suspension of the agricultural forestal district (AFD) program.

Other budget changes include the following:

• $32,691 in Blue Ridge Regional Jail per diem reductions

• $35,000 final payment made for the Turbeville Elementary School building

• $306,657 Industrial Development Authority full repayment of $400,000 loan

• $70,000 updated line of duty expenses

• $185,000 from the sale of South of Dan Elementary School building

• $450,000 increase in delinquent tax collections

• $21,000 in energy improvements

• $8,000 in savings generated in agricultural development

• $9,000 in savings generated in general properties contracted out for mowing and painting

• $190,000 reduction in the Halifax Opportunity fund to actual requirement in 2012

• $350,000 net reduction in the county school contribution

Supervisors unanimously agreed Monday night to continue funding 90 percent of the county employees’ portion of health insurance in the coming year.

ED-6 Supervisor Wayne Conner was absent from the meeting.

Jackson explained the proposed budget had included a 15 percent increase in health insurance costs, but the premium had increased by 16 percent leaving $1,600 that must be added to the proposed budget to cover the cost of the increased premium.

In other action Monday evening, supervisors briefly discussed the $600,000 cut in local funding they made to the county school budget last month after School Superintendent Paul Stapleton asked board members to revisit the issue.

At a meeting in April, ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis made a motion that a majority of board members approved to give $12,656,000 in county funds to the school budget, $600,000 less than appropriated over the last two budget years.

As part of that motion, supervisors also agreed that upon completion of an independent efficiency review and curriculum audit of the school system similar in scope and nature as outlined by the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget, the board of supervisors “will consider” a supplemental appropriation of $250,000.

The study will be subject to approval by the board of supervisors, the motion further stated.

School board members at their Monday afternoon special called meeting questioned whether supervisors were obligated to fund $250,000 to the school budget once the study is contracted out to a firm since the motion included the wording “will consider.”

ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman said he was in favor of giving the school system $250,000 as soon as the board contracts a consultant to perform the efficiency review.

However, Chairman Tom West suggested discussion on the matter should take place in closed session where supervisors could question County Attorney Jeremy Carroll concerning the legalities of what constraints supervisors can place on the school budget.

“It’s an open session item as far as I’m concerned,” Bowman said.

ED-3 Supervisor William Fitzgerald said in his 10 years on the board he had never seen the board place conditions on appropriating money to the school board.

“I don’t feel comfortable putting conditions on appropriations we give the school system,” he said.

Supervisors agreed to further discuss the matter with the county attorney behind closed doors.

However, before they entered executive session, School Board member Joe Gasperini questioned the board’s willingness to give the school system $250,000 once a firm has been contracted to perform the efficiency study and curriculum audit.

The board entered closed session to discuss the issue.

When they emerged, no action was taken.

However, supervisors further discussed Gasperini’s request and stated they would be willing to increase the local contribution to the school board budget by $250,000 once the school board contracts with a firm to perform the efficiency student and curriculum audit review on the condition it is acceptable to the supervisors.

During the public input session of the meeting Monday, Bernard Mitzler of Nathalie told supervisors “there’s some reason the school system does not want to do this study.

“If they want the money, let them play the game. He who holds the purse wins,” he said.