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Public can weigh in at budget hearing tonight

Residents wishing to comment on fee increases and spending cuts proposed in the 2013-14 Halifax County budget will have that opportunity tonight when supervisors hold a public hearing on the $88,716,327 balanced budget draft that includes no raises for county employees and is $510,886 less than the current year’s budget.

The hearing will get under way at 6 p.m. in the second floor board meeting room at the Mary Bethune office complex in Halifax.

Supervisors have advertised a 2 cents increase in real estate taxes offering them flexibility to raise the current 45-cent rate per $100 assessed value to 47 cents.

However, Finance Chairman Doug Bowman earlier made it clear the 2-cents increase was “for advertising purposes only.”

Because supervisors are not allowed to raise taxes higher than the rate advertised for public hearing, they chose to advertise a proposed 2 percent increase in order to “give us some flexibility,” Bowman said.

All other tax rates are advertised to remain the same with personal property remaining at $3.60 and machinery and tools tax remaining at $1.26.

Should supervisors vote to raise the real estate tax rate, each additional penny increase would generate an additional $359,000 in income.

When the hearing gets under way tonight, residents can comment on the balanced county budget proposal as well as the school budget that includes a proposed county contribution of $13,267,529, some $360,000 above current year funding.

However, the $360,000 in extra local monies only restores school funding to the level in place prior to $250,000 being withheld for the efficiency studies in the previous year, County Administrator Jim Halasz said.

Staff recommended total county funding of $13,267,529 compared to the school board’s request for $16,630,336.

The county is required by the Department of Education to fund the school system a minimum of $11,300,452 for the 5,219 expected student enrollment, which is $1,967,077 less than what is included in the proposed budget for 2014, Halasz added.

In the current year, supervisors contributed $1.8 million more than the commonwealth required.

Including debt service, Halasz said the recommended budget will contribute to the schools $6,972,000 more than required in the coming year.

According to county budget figures, the state is funding $33,668,473 in the upcoming school budget.

Of the state funding, $416,612 has been earmarked for providing 2 percent raises for Standards of Quality positions.

School board members sought an additional $308,961 from the county to provide 2 percent raises for all other positions in the school system so that every employee will receive an across the board salary hike.

School board members voted last week to give the 2 percent raise to all school employees totaling $725,573.

Unlike in previous years, county staff has recommended not dipping into the unassigned or undesignated $4.7 million fund surplus to balance the proposed county budget that includes $250,000 in new money from meals tax and $550,000 from the newly implemented solid waste disposal fee.

The draft budget reflects a 1 percent decrease from the current year and was balanced by staff recommending increases in numerous county fees and making cuts to most departmental requests.

Had all the requests for additional funding been left in the budget, Halasz said the shortfall would require a 14.5 cents increase in the real estate tax rate raising the current 45-cent tax to 59.5 cents per $100 of assessed value.

In drafting the 2014 proposed budget, Halasz said the guiding principle used was to preserve the core government and taxpayer-funded services of public safety and public education, while keeping increased costs to taxpayers to a minimum.

Along those lines, staff recommended increasing funding to the sheriff’s office to buy $40,000 in car cameras for 10 vehicles and $90,000 to purchase new 911 equipment to replace an outdated phone system in the county dispatch center.

In the proposed balanced budget, most departments’ operational budgets remained level with or less than the current year’s funding.

Health insurance costs are anticipated to increase by $170,000 and are included in the staff recommended budget, but no across the board pay hikes are included for county employees in the coming year.

In order to balance the budget that originally had a $5.2 million deficit, staff recommended making the following cuts:

Required The Prizery to repay a $60,000 loan due in September for which they had requested forgiveness;

 Removed all discretionary funding arrangements and dues for supervisors including the Institute of Government ($1,950), Roanoke River Rails to Trails ($1,900), Halifax County Chamber of Commerce ($3,200) and Virginia’s Retreat ($4,061);

 Removed the commissioner of revenue’s request to fund the $13,000 cost of personal property tax returns;

 Removed reimbursement of insurance premiums for volunteer fire departments ($29,000) and reduced their request for two sets of personal protective equipment to one set for each department;

 Removed reimbursement of insurance premiums for ambulance and rescue services and did not reinstate $6,000 for Halifax County Rescue Squad or an additional $3,000 for Halifax EMS and Turbeville EMS;

 Decreased $50,000 from building and grounds due to removal of courthouse repairs and maintenance expense because of the ongoing courthouse renovation project that is now a separate line item in the budget;

 Declined request to increase $74,615 in funding for Community Services Board;

 Declined request to increase library funding by $17,000;

 Declined request to increase community contributions to Halifax County/South Boston Museum by $10,389;

 Declined Prizery’s new funding annual arrangement of $75,000; 

 Reduced Halifax County Industrial Development Authority operational expenses by $100,000;

 Declined to fund $10,738 to the Longwood Small Business Center;

 Reduced funding for tourism by $14,697;

 Declined funding $2,594 for the Old Dominion RC&D program;

 Funded three new vehicles for the sheriff’s office instead of the five requested for a savings of $52,000;

 Declined YMCA’s request to fund an additional $6,252;

 Funded no pay increases for county employees, Department of Social Services, Library, E911 or any county funded agencies; and

 Declined filling the litter control director’s position for the improvement council saving $19,950.

Seven speakers whose budget requests were reduced or cut entirely in the proposed balanced budget have signed up to speak tonight including County Tourism Director Linda Shepperd, Larry Harris of the Longwood Small Business Center, Halifax County/South Boston Library Director Joe Zappacosta, Kathy Andrews of the Social Services Department, Prizery President Barbara Speece, South Boston/Halifax County Museum Director Beth Coates and Halifax County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon.

Other speakers are expected to address the board concerning proposed increases in fees which include the following:

 Motor vehicle license fee increases will raise estimated new revenue of $437,000

Motorcycle: Current rate of $5, proposed increase to $28.75

Motor vehicle: Current rate of $25, proposed increase to $40.75

National Guard: Current rate of $23, proposed increase to $40.75

Farm vehicle: Current rate of $23, proposed increase to $40.75

RV/motor home: Current rate of $25, proposed increase to $40.75

 Animal license fee increases will raise estimated new revenue of $32,350

Dog tag: Current rate of $5, proposed increase to $10

Kennel tag: Current rate of $40, proposed increase to $50

 Animal shelter fees increases will raise estimated revenue of $1,500

Daily boarding: Current rate of $5, proposed increase to $10

Redemption: Current rate of $15, proposed increase to $20

Livestock hauling fee/head: Current rate of $25, proposed increase to $50

Livestock daily/head boarding: Current rate $15, proposed increase to $25

Livestock redemption/head: Current rate of $25, proposed increase to $35

Adoption fee: Current rate of $35, proposed increase to $45

No shots (vaccinations): Current rate of $15, proposed increase to $25

 Business license fee increases to raise estimated new revenue of $167,500

Amusement - $100 to $200

Business service - $30 to $50

Coin operated machines - $20 to $100

Contractor - $30 to $50

Fortune teller - $500 to $1,000

Itinerant merchant - $100 to $500

Miscellaneous - $30 to $50

Peddler - $50 to $500

Real estate agent - $30 to $50

Repair service - $30 - $50

Retail - $30 to $50

Wholesale - $30 to $50

Following tonight’s public hearing, county supervisors are expected to discuss key budget points during a work session and decide if another budget work session should be held March 25.

Supervisors are scheduled to set the tax rates at its Monday, April 1, meeting.