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Surprise! Halifax County sees big surplus

$593,000.That’s how much additional money the Halifax County Board of Supervisors anticipates having in the proposed 2013-14 budget after County Administrator Jim Halasz and Finance Director Stephanie Jackson updated them Monday night on changes impacting expenses and revenues.

“We’ve had two changes, and frankly they’re all good news at this time,” Halasz said.

Following the joint meeting held with the towns of South Boston and Halifax, Halasz told supervisors that changes to the proposed budget have resulted in the county having $343,000 more than expected from reductions in regional jail costs, down from what has been paid in the past several years, $70,000 from a reduction in health insurance costs and $180,000 from an increase in anticipated sales tax revenue.

“So if you look at the total, we’ve got about $593,000 that has not been allocated…at this time. We all know there are a lot of needs out there,” he added.

Finance committee members are expected to hold a meeting before the May 6 board meeting to discuss how to spend the more than half million dollar unanticipated surplus.

County Administrator Jim Halasz recommended supervisors hold back at least $300,000 until late fall or early winter in the next fiscal year for use in unforeseen costs for courthouse construction and relocation of the sheriff’s department.

He also suggested supervisors consider holding back $105,000, the amount it would cost to give employees a 2 percent salary increase, “until late fall to consider unmet needs that may arise.”

That leaves $188,000 for distribution as the board desires, Halasz said.

Previously the finance committee had recommended giving the schools an additional $240,000.

Other needs not currently budgeted but under consideration are $50,000 for water and sewer preliminary engineering reports at the fairgrounds off Plywood Trail, $214,000 for additional refuse trucks and $105,000 for a 2 percent employee pay increase.

Halasz reminded board members they had expressed interest in considering development of property at the fairgrounds.

“Prior to being able to develop anything, even to apply for grants or loans, we would have to get a preliminary engineering report for water and sewer,” the county administrator said noting each report would cost approximately $25,000.

“You don’t have to do that, but that’s the next step if you move down that road,” he added.

The county administrator said Solid Waste Management Director Ricky Nelson is having “difficulties” with the department’s refuse trucks that have been on the road for 13 years, 365 days a year.

“He’s having a tough time keeping them on the road at this time,” Halasz told supervisors. “He has stretched them out as long as he can.”

Concerning the pay increase for county employees, the county administrator said, “Obviously, there are many employees who have had very little increase over the last five years, and some of them make a very low rate of pay, and it would be wonderful to at least consider that.”

Although no action was taken Monday evening, supervisors are expected to consider the budget at the May 6 meeting.

Also supervisors will have to approve the health insurance plans available to county employees at the May meeting.

After meeting with the insurance consultant Monday, Finance Director Jackson suggested the county offer three options to employees in the coming year that include deductibles of $500, $1,000 and $2,000.

Currently, the county offers a plan with a $200 deductible that the consultant suggested should be dropped to save money.

“We just have to look at how to mitigate the rising costs that are going to come from the Affordable Healthcare Act and how it’s going to impact us,” Jackson said.

When developing the budget, supervisors had previously stated they wanted healthcare not to cost employees any more than in the current year.

By offering these three choices, Jackson said the county could keep the costs where they currently are.

In other action Monday, supervisors authorized Halifax County Emergency Services to implement and start a local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) that will be based in the county’s 12 fire districts.

Prior to approving implementation of the CERT program, supervisors heard a presentation from Halifax County Emergency Services Deputy Coordinator Chad Loftis on the program. 

The CERT concept was developed and implemented by the City of Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985.

CERT is a critical nine-week program that trains citizens to supplement emergency responders to make their communities safer, more prepared and more resilient when incidents occur, Loftis said.

Emergency Services is currently working with businesses and non-governmental organizations to purchase the necessary start-up equipment, Loftis said, adding there will be no immediate costs to the county.