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Board gets good, bad news on budget

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By John Barnhart

    The supervisors have gotten good news and bad news from Interim County Administrator Frank Rogers.
    The good news is that the county will get $4 million per year in additional revenue due to Bedford’s reversion to town status. The bad news is that it still leaves the county nearly $2 million in the hole. Rogers presented them with recommendations on closing that gap at a Monday evening budget work session.
    The county will pick up $240,000 in additional public safety costs as the result of Bedford’s reversion. The county will also see its health insurance premiums rise by 14 percent, but this has nothing to do with the reversion.
    “Eighty-four percent of that increase is related to the new health care act,” Susan Crawford, the county’s director of fiscal management, told the supervisors.
    Rogers told the supervisors that the county will also incur a net increase in expenditures of $338,000 if the state authorizes a 3 percent pay increase for public employees to be effective on Sept. 1. There is also a request from the county’s volunteer rescue squads for more career staffing and this will cost $300,000.
    “We now have to find a way to pay the debt service on the group home,” Rogers added.
    To close the gap, Rogers recommended keeping currently vacant positions vacant. This saves $863,000. Rogers had presented a report to the supervisors showing what it would cost if those positions were filled.
    There is also money available to plug some holes. The county has a health insurance fund with a remaining balance of $241,000. This can be used to offset the health insurance premium increase. He also suggested using $560,000 from a fund balance, that has been building for a few years, to plug a hole in the vehicle replacement fund.
    Rogers recommended turning a portion of the group home facility to the county’s fire and rescue department. He said that two of the cottages, plus the group home’s administration building, which also includes the school, could be used by that department.
    Jack Jones, the county’s director of fire and rescue, liked the idea.
    “What we would gain, if we go over there, is dedicated classroom space,” he said.
    Right now his entire department is housed in trailers, which along with being inadequate for its needs, also has other problems.
    “The pipes freeze consistently in the winter,” he said.
    The group home facility is also close to his department’s current trailer park. It’s almost right across Falling Creek from the facility.
    Jones said that his department has funds available from EMS billing to take over the debt service on the buildings. He said that the  department has been putting aside money from this source for capital improvements for some time.
    “This is a great fix,” he said, calling Rogers’ suggestion a “very responsible use” for the buildings.
    “The general fund budget we propose here has no new fees, no new taxes,” Rogers told the supervisors.
    There is, however, a big piece missing. Rogers was only able to put a place-holder figure for the amount of money the county will transfer to the school division. Rogers isn’t expecting to have figures from the school division until March 11.