- Last Updated on 07:59 AM 03/07/12
- BY Paula I. Bryant
Halifax County Supervisors are considering several budget cutting options and pondering whether to give employees a 3 percent cost of living raise.
During a two-hour work session Monday afternoon, board members discussed ways to balance the proposed $87.7 million 2012-13 county budget, one that represents a 4 percent decrease from the current year’s $90.9 million budget, according to County Administrator George Nester.
Originally, budget requests from all departments and agencies left supervisors facing a $1.2 million gap between revenues and expenses.
However, Finance Director Stephanie Jackson whittled the deficit down to $383,477 using supervisors’ suggestions to include no new full-time employees and reduce outside agency requests to the same amount they are receiving in the current year.
Not included in the proposed budget are raises for county employees or anticipated health insurance rate increases.
According to Nester, most county departments’ operational budgets came in less than the current year.
Exceptions include the following:
• Sheriff’s budget that reflects an increase due to the rising cost of fuel;
• Volunteer Fire Departments’ budget that reflect an increase due to the Line of Duty Act currently being considered by the Virginia General Assembly and a $24,000 request for personal protective equipment;
• Corrections’ budget that reflect an increase due to Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority per diem increase to cover the rise in retirement rates and debt service;
• Animal Control’s budget that reflects increase to cover rising fuel costs;
• ublic Works’ budget that reflects increase to cover rising fuel costs;
• Building and Grounds budget that reflects increase to cover maintenance contract with Linc;
• Planning and Zoning budget that reflects increase to cover the Comprehensive Plan Review; and
• Tourism’s budget that reflects an increase due to the new Visitor Center in South Boston.
Reassessment tax rate increase
On Thursday, March 15, supervisors will hold a public hearing to increase the real estate tax rate from the current 43 cents to 45 cents to offset the decrease in the recent general reassessment of real property that went into effect Jan. 1.
The 2011 real estate tax rate was 43 cents per 100 of assessed value. However with the reassessment, the equalized real estate tax rate is 45 cents per 100, according to the county administrator.
That means since the total assessed value of property went down by 3.24 percent as a result of the reassessment, a 2-cents increase to 45 cents per $100 value is needed to continue bringing in the same amount of tax revenue.
According to Nester, the school system’s budget had the most significant impact on the budget representing 66 percent of total expenses.
Supervisors maintain the Department of Education requires the county to fund the school system a minimum of $11,528,910 for its anticipated 5,410 student enrollment, which the proposed budget exceeds by 171 percent with level funding of $12,906,000.
Although not included in the budget, county staff is recommending employees be given a 3 percent cost of living increase that would cost an additional $153,000.
“There has been no cost of living increases or merit raises given to county employees since 2009,” Nester said.
The two main benefit expenses have been health insurance and retirement.
Retirement costs increased 2.35 percent this year, and the county continues to wait for Anthem Insurance to notify them of their rate increase for the coming year, he added.
Nester recommended the county continue to pay 90 percent of the total costs of employee only insurance.
Offsetting budget gap
In an effort to offset the $383,477 budget gap, supervisors discussed instituting a centralized purchasing system for county departments and agencies including the school system that would amount to an estimated savings of $15,000, consolidating duplicate functions with agencies such as the Industrial Development Authority and library board and privatizing solid waste disposal and implementing a user fee of $4 per month per household that would amount to $500,000 that could be added to the budget.
They suggested negotiating attorney fees in an effort to reduce legal expenses that continue to rise and asked the county administrator to send out a letter to all department heads and agencies that get county funds requesting their financials be shared with the county.
A subject that was not raised during the Monday work session was raising real estate taxes by an additional two cents to 47 cents to bring in $757,000 more to the county coffers.
Supervisors are expected to approve the real estate tax increase to offset decreased assessment following the public hearing on March 15, and the county’s tax rate will be 45 cents compared to Campbell County’s rate of 46 cents, Charlotte County’s rate of 42 cents, Henry County’s rate of 46 cents, Lunenburg’s rate of 36 cents, Mecklenburg’s rate of 36 cents and Pittsylvania County’s rate of 52 cents.
Centralizing libraries, ymca self-sufficiency
Centralizing the two branch libraries into one central location also was a topic of discussion during Monday’s work session.
ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis pointed out the county has two libraries – one in the Town of South Boston and one in the Town of Halifax - both within 5.1 miles of each other.
“It doesn’t make sense to me to operate two libraries. Consolidating the two could mean a savings of $70,000,” Davis said.
ED-7 Supervisor Lottie Nunn told Davis although county residents may not care about the consolidation, “the two towns would care.”
Agreeing it is “a delicate issue,” ED-3 Supervisor William Fitzgerald suggested a member of the board meet with the library board to further discuss a possible consolidation.
Supervisors also questioned why the county continues to supplement the YMCA’s annual budget.
“Why can’t the YMCA be self-sufficient?” asked ED-7 Supervisor Nunn.
The YMCA had requested $13,000 in the proposed budget, but supervisors have only included $6,252, level funding from the current year.
A line item that was deleted from the proposed budget during Monday’s discussions was a $2,594 contribution to Resource Conservation and Development, a program county officials said has been defunded by the federal government.