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Congratulations are in order

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By John Barnhart


    Now that we have closed out 2012 and begun a new year, it seems that congratulations are in order for the Bedford County Board of Supervisors. They have, over the past four years, been able to avoid raising taxes in spite of the General Assembly’s penchant to roll state budgetary problems downhill. They have also achieved reductions in county staff without resorting to layoffs. They have done this exclusively through attrition. This is good because it means nobody has been thrown over the side as a cost saving measure. Furthermore, they have been able to do this without cutting vital county services. Even some non-vital county services have done well. The county recreation department, for instance, found ways to expand it’s programs without hitting up the county’s taxpayers for more money.    
    Keeping county government costs down, and county tax rates low is vital. The taxpayers don’t represent a bottomless money pit. While there are certainly some people who could easily afford a one cent hike in the real estate tax rate, there are also many others who cannot. There are probably some people — folks on the low end of the economic totem poll, as well as some retirees who retired on limited fixed incomes — who are having a challenge paying their taxes as things now stand.
    Now, as we move into the new year, the supervisors will once again have to develop a new budget. It won’t be easy and it remains to be seen what the supervisors will be able to do. The Sheriff, for one, will be coming before the board asking for pay raises for deputies. Maj. Ricky Gardner has told me that they keep losing experienced deputies to neighboring law enforcement agencies. While the Sheriff’s Office is exempt from the county’s hiring freeze, Maj. Gardner said that it costs the county money to train new deputies, only to lose them once they gain experience.
    One thing I sincerely hope is that this new year will see a better relationship between the board of supervisors and the school board. During most of the 15 years that I’ve covered local government, here, that relationship has been poisonous. Solving the overcrowding problem at Jefferson Forest High School especially stands out in my mind. It was solved only after a rancorous, decade-long, tug-of-war between the school board and the supervisors with the school board wanting to build a new school and the supervisors wanting them to renovate the existing building. The supervisors prevailed on that controversy and the renovation ended up working quite well.
    There is absolutely no need for warfare over building a new middle school. The county’s reversion agreement requires the construction of a new middle school in the Liberty Attendance Zone and they already know where the money is coming from. Bedford becomes a town on July 1 and the county inherits the former city’s local composite index for the next 15 years. This is estimated to bring in an additional $6 million in school funding from the state. This will provide enough money to build the middle school and address other capital improvement needs that the school board has identified on a long range capital needs plan that it presented to the supervisors this year.
    There will still be plenty of other funding issues for the school board and the supervisors to fuss  and fume about, but this doesn’t have to be so. It would be very helpful if the supervisors and the members of the school board would learn to work together instead of approaching each other as adversaries. Providing a good education for the county’s youth that will enable them to either get a job or continue their education is an important function of local government. This can best be accomplished if these two local governing bodies work together cooperatively to find the best, affordable, ways to do this.
    This would be for the best, but we will see, in coming months, what will actually happen.