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Budget approved; lone supervisor paints bleak outlook for region

After compromising on how to divy up $593,000 in extra county money, Halifax County Board of Supervisors, in a 6-2 vote, adopted an $87.2 million 2013-14 budget Monday evening that includes no pay increase for county employees.

ED-3 Supervisor William I. Fitzgerald and ED-5 Supervisor Barry Bank voted against the budget.

Prior to its adoption, supervisors reached a budget compromise on how to spend $593,000 resulting from $343,000 more than expected in reductions of regional jail costs from what has been paid over the past several years, $70,000 from a reduction in health insurance costs and $180,000 from an increase in anticipated sales tax revenue.

Past efforts to reach an agreement on how to spend the more than half million dollar unanticipated surplus had been unsuccessful, but Monday evening a majority of supervisors agreed to Finance Chairman Doug Bowman’s proposal that would give $110,000 to schools, earmarked $200,000 for courthouse renovations and sheriff’s department relocation, $50,000 for water and sewer engineering at the fairgrounds and $50,000 to finance a front-end loader for public works.

The compromise agreement also would use $83,500 to cut by half the proposed hike in business license fees, modify the reduction to $40,000 for IDA operations and fund $26,000 for a second set of volunteer fire personal protection equipment for each county fire department.

The extra funding also will be used to fund $7,500 to the YMCA, $1,900 to Roanoke River Rails to Trails, $3,200 to the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce, $3,900 to the Roanoke River Basin Association, $7,000 to the Halifax County/South Boston Museum and $10,000 to Longwood Small Business Development Center.

Bowman’s motion to approve the budget compromise received a second from J. T. Davis. However, before it was voted on, ED-5 Supervisor Barry Bank offered a substitute motion that would have reduced the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority allocation by $100,000 and only would have provided $100,000 in additional funding to the schools.

Bank’s substitute motion died for lack of a second, and Bowman’s original motion passed 5-3 with Bank, Fitzgerald and ED-8 Supervisor W. Bryant Claiborne opposing.

For almost 10 straight minutes, Bank voiced his opposition to Bowman’s proposed budget compromise singling out the county IDA for getting a 19 percent increase when all other departments and agencies are seeing a decrease in funding or remaining at level funding during the upcoming budget year.

“In spite of tens of millions of dollars that have been given to IDA, the employment in Halifax County has continued to decline,” he told his fellow supervisors.

“The demographics show a decline in population and in the working age population by 16 percent which means we’ve got a small workforce, and it’s going to continue that way,” he added.

He referred to hourly wages of jobs recently created at Riverstone as being “significantly lower than the average for Halifax County.”

According to Bank, the last census revealed an hourly pay rate of $15.75, and he said jobs at Riverstone call center pay “less than that, so we’re not getting the big money in here with the jobs paying $50,000 to $80,000 that I was told was going to be there when they first started Riverstone.”

He shifted his next remarks to the workforce education level in the county that he described as “a whole lot less than what we would need for those type of jobs and making it highly unlikely that high-tech industry is going to be coming in here.”

Bank criticized board members for paying $3.5 million or $13,000 an acre for the fairgrounds to be used as a potential industrial development site.

 “We can’t use it. We’ve lost a lot of money on that,” he said.

As he continued his negative remarks about the county’s efforts to pursue future growth and development, Bank said, “We were supposed to get broadband in here, and that’s still in process.”

Then he spoke critically of the area’s workforce saying, “This area does not have a motivated workforce which is another problem.”

He specifically cited a Danville company’s inability to find programmers and software designers.

“They can’t hire them because they can’t find them because they’re not the people with the expertise. So I would like to see the revision made to take the extra $100,000 and bring the IDA (budget) down,” he said offering his rational for objecting to Bowman’s proposed budget compromise.

Bank said he’s been told the IDA wants to become “an independent agency, so I think this is an opportunity for the county to move in that direction and let them become an independent agency by reducing their amount of dependence on the county.”

However, he didn’t stop there. He continued finding fault with Halifax County pointing to its negative health rankings.

In a survey completed by the National Association of Counties, Bank said Halifax County ranks 112th out of 133 Virginia counties in overall health, and 42 percent of children live in single-parent families with that parent “usually being uneducated.”

He pointed out 26 percent of county residents live in poverty, compared to the national average of 14 percent.

Teen birth rates here are 48 per 1,000, while the U. S. rate is 21, according to information Bank provided board members.

“There is one area in which Halifax County shines, and that is in the area of 439 sexually transmitted infections per thousand, versus 92 for the rest of the country, so I don’t think we are in a position where we should be spending a lot of money on industrial development. We ought to be taking care of the problems we’ve got,” he added.

No supervisors responded to Bank’s lengthy comments, and his substitute motion failed because not one of the supervisors would offer a second.

After approving the budget, supervisors agreed to take $3,262 from the current general fund to cover the Resource, Conservation and Development dues in the coming year.

Also Monday evening, supervisors voted unanimously to provide a pledge of moral obligation to pay $785,027.50 to SunTrust Bank for the purchase of nine 2012 (new) school buses for Halifax County Public Schools should the school board fail to make the payment over the seven-year financing arrangement.

Unlike in previous lease-purchase arrangements, School Director of Finance Jay Camp said this time in order to enter into a lease purchase agreement for the buses, the bank is requiring the board of supervisors to provide the moral obligation pledge.

Camp told board members the school system found out about a “considerable price differential” in nine schools buses last week and sought a loan.

“When the price on these school buses came up, it was one we just couldn’t refuse,” Camp said, “because it’s a considerable savings of about $10,000 per bus.”

The finance director said he contacted SunTrust Bank about combining this lease purchase agreement with a previous loan already secured to purchase two special education buses and five school vehicles.

However, he was notified that for this transaction the bank would require the moral obligation pledge.

Camp said the rationale behind requiring the pledge was due to the economic situation with tobacco and textile jobs diminishing in the area and school enrollment declining.

On the previous loan arrangement for the two special education buses and five vehicles, Camp said he had secured a 1.71 percent fixed interest rate.

“With the moral obligation pledge, it (bus loan) should be lower than that,” former bank officer Bowman told Camp. “If they will do 1.71 percent without the county’s pledge, then it ought to be lower than that fixed for seven years, and you can tell Dennis Howard I said that.”

Although the purchase of these nine buses enhances the school’s fleet, Camp told supervisors the school system still needs more buses.

“This is just a dent,” he said, adding with the savings they are seeing in this arrangement, the school system may be able to purchase another one to two buses.

“We do need buses. We are breaking down. This will put a dent in our needs,” he added.

 

Camp noted the last purchase of used buses occurred in 2008.