County to hold early budget hearing

By Susan Gibbs

With the county facing rising expenses and lower revenues and the public school district facing a million dollar plus shortfall the Greene County Board of Supervisors and the Greene County School Board have called for a public hearing on the county’s budget for

County supervisors and school board members meet Nov. 19 to discuss budget needs

Fiscal Year 2013-2014 to ring in the New Year.

The two boards called for the hearing – to involve all county agencies and departments, and to be held Tuesday, Jan. 15, with time and location yet to be determined – following a Nov. 19 workshop at which both boards expressed frustration with the economy and focused on the bottom line – that either taxes have to be raised or programs have to be cut.

“We don’t know what the county’s revenue, will be,” said Clarence “Buggs” Peyton, chairman of the board of supervisors. He called attention to the recent reassessments of all property in Greene County, which reflects an overall decrease in value of 6 percent; to the county’s water treatment facility in Ruckersville; and to supervisors’ recent commitment to impound water.

It’s not just that revenue from property taxes goes down with assessments, Peyton pointed out. Debt service on the county’s water treatment plant in Ruckersville, which went into operation in 2006, was to be paid for via hookup fees. But, “the economy fell out so we’re not bringing in those revenues,” he said. “We now have to draw down from the general fund to pay the debt service.”

And, Peyton said, the county does not yet have enough water to bring in big business. He noted that to offset that problem supervisors committed to an impoundment that could cost a reported $40 million.

“Education has to be at the top of our list of obligations, and we have to have fire and rescue,” Peyton continued. “I would be willing to pull money from anywhere else to fund those three rather than raise taxes. I’m probably going to get a good thrashing from some people, but that’s the way it is.”

School Board Member Troy Harlow told Peyton he wasn’t alone.

“Both sides are painted into a corner on this,” he said. “Your situation is (wondering) where the revenue is coming from. Our situation is deciding where and how things are cut. If we don’t get the money for our local funding we are going to have to make some significant cuts. If we make the cuts, people in the community are going to be up in arms, against us (and against) you all as well. That’s just a fact of life.”

School Board Chairwoman Michelle Flynn made it clear that the school board was not now asking for additional local funding – just that supervisors keep the current allocation level in the coming fiscal year because the public school district “will likely lose money from both state and federal sources.”

That likelihood is in keeping with the current trend: In the last few years the state has reduced public education funding through a number of policy changes that decrease its obligations moving forward, according to the draft of Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission’s 2013 legislative agenda.

“For example,” the draft reads, “the state ‘saved’ millions of dollars by shifting costs to localities through making some spending ineligible for state reimbursement or lowering the amount of the payback. Three years ago, it imposed a cap on state funding for education support personnel. It has reduced funding for other support costs and supplanted general fund dollars with lottery funds to produce other savings. Policy changes to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) this past year … will cost localities money and do nothing to reduce unfunded teacher pension liability. Changes to the Standards of Accreditation and Standards of Learning, such as higher standards in math and science, also drive increased expenditures.”

Greene County Superintendent of Schools David Jeck said the school district has already suffered one mid-year cut in federal funding of about $6,000.

“That’s not a lot of money, but that’s the trend,” he told supervisors.

Jeck explained that the programs that are impacted the most by federal cuts are “typically (mandated) Title I and Title VI-B special education programs.”

According to the Virginia Department of Education Web site, Title I funds are to be used to: improve basic programs; improve student reading skills; educate migratory children; serve children who are neglected, delinquent or at risk, contribute to comprehensive school reform; or to prevent school dropout.

Title VI-B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provides funding for districts to supplement the level of special education and related services provided to students with disabilities who are enrolled in special education programs.

Flynn made it clear that the school district is willing to offset state and federal decreases in funding with cost cutting, and stressed the importance of public involvement.

“In September we had our first Budget 101, and we had maybe four non-school employees there,” she said, referring to her board’s recent effort to get the public involved in the school district budget early on. “We had a public hearing on our budget … nothing. Not anything.

“Things are important to people but nobody speaks up if they think it’s just business as usual,” Flynn continued, and noted the importance of transparency when dealing with the possibility of a million dollar budget shortfall. “I don’t know if our administrators can even tell us what they have on the drawing board for potential cuts because that is massive.”

It was Flynn who called for a consensus from both boards for a public hearing, involving all county agencies and departments, to make the public aware of the financial situation early on, and to talk about community priorities.

“People are either going to have to part with some services, or with tax dollars,” said Supervisor Jim Frydl. “Ideally the public will help us by saying this is really important and that is not really important. And (hopefully) the things that they find important or not important are not mandated, so we will actually have a choice.”

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