By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer
Jim Frydl (Midway District), Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, started the evening stating the purpose of the meeting was to get feedback from the public on what is important in a time when real estate assessments are down, there are added state and federal requirements and the county must start paying for the water and sewer system. County staff has told the Board of Supervisors of a projected $800,000 to $1 million in lower county revenue, primarily due to reduced property assessment. Greene Treasurer Stephanie Deal reports increases in real estate, personal property and sales taxes that total over $350,000 in 2012 vs. 2011.
Michelle Flynn, Chair of the School Board, made a brief presentation stating that revenue from the State is projected to decline by $232,000 due to flat enrollment and that Federal sequestration – if it occurs – would reduce Federal funds by $125,000. The presentation noted that “Local tax rate increase will be required just to equalize local revenues due to lower assessment values”.
The largest item presented as a cost cutting option is a reduction of 32 positions that total $913,000. Governor McDonnell has announced a 2% increase in teacher wages but 1% of that increase would have to be paid by the county and that tenure would be extended after 5 years instead of 3 years adds to the School Board’s request.
The total for all projected cuts and cost increases from state and federal sources along with other cost increases such as fuel and insurance came to $675,000. Flynn summarized the reductions to the school budget from 2008 of over $3 million. The School Board is asking that the Board of Supervisors provides the same funding as this year for the 2013/2014 school year.
Following the presentations, it was time to hear from the public. This meeting was quite a different setting than the last time the BOS met the public to talk about budgets. Only 12 citizens spoke on a variety of issues from the school system, JABA , the Senior Center , the Shelter for Help and Emergency and the Greene County Public Library . Two of the speakers asked for more information related to the school system – how much needs to be cut, how much would cutting athletics contribute, how is the school budget spent, etc. One speaker asked not to have taxes raised as it makes it hard for seniors on fixed income.
The other speakers gave comments to support their organizations. Kiki Flood didn’t want to see any budget cut and wants the schools to get increased funding. Karen Fisk from the Greene County Library asked that their hours of operation be expanded by eight hours a week to better match the need from Piedmont Virginia Community College classes starting in the upstairs of their building. The final speaker was David Morris who grew up in Greene and went on to earn a masters degree and had a career in social work. He has moved back to Greene and supports putting education on a high priority as it is preparing our kids for tomorrow.
Each member of the Board of Supervisors and School Board then summarized the meeting. Flynn thanked the Board of Supervisors for attending and invited the public to their workshop on January 23rd.
Supervisor Davis Lamb (Ruckersville) commented on the poor ranking of US students in the world and that we must improve.
Supervisor Clarence “Buggs” Peyton (Stanardsville) expressed concern about the reduction in assessed value of property and subsequent reduction in property tax revenue. He felt this year will come down to cutting spending or raising taxes. Last year the reserve fund was depleted and Greene County now needs to be conservative in its spending. His final comment was that he wouldn’t support an increase in the tax rate and he wouldn’t compromise his beliefs unless the schools were seriously in jeopardy.
Finally, BOS Chairman Frydl commented that the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to receive an update on the reserve fund in February. His final comment was that we all will have to do more with less and believes that most citizens in Greene County will be disappointed in the budget as there is less revenue available and more demands from the state.
The Free Enterprise Forum applauds the two boards to begin the dialogue in this difficult process early. While the number of speakers was significantly reduced from the hearing held this Spring, including the public as a vested third party is critical.
Hopefully, the two elected board retain this level of communication and transparency. The next few months of the budget will include several ups and downs regarding proposed state and federal funding.
In addition, citizens and elected officials must understand the fiscal impacts of reduced property assessment. While many, perhaps most, citizens, would prefer to pay lower taxes; the locality must balance its budget. If revenue is reduced, spending on local government services, including schools, will be impacted.
The annual budget question is how the Board of Supervisors chooses to balance spending and revenue. The fact that the School Board and Citizens are both engaged at this stage of the process is a good thing. Will they maintain this level of communication and transparency? Will citizens remain engaged in the byzantine budget process? Stay tuned.
Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.
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