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Future budget issues focus of meeting

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By Tom Wilmoth

    Short- and long-term budget issues were on the agenda at a joint meeting of the Bedford County School Board and Board of Supervisors Tuesday evening.
    A proposal to use $655,000 in leftover money from the 2011-2012 school budget to fund a bonus for school employees prompted little discussion or direction from the supervisors.
    School Board Chairman Gary Hostutler is pushing for the carryover funds to be used to provide a $400 bonus for full-time school employees and a $200 bonus for part-timers. Generally carryover funds are used for one-time maintenance expenditures.
    Other school board members have suggested using the money to fund hiring additional teachers or buying school buses.
    Supervisors Chairman Steve Arrington said any bonus given to school employees would need to be matched for all county employees. Without knowing the county’s budget situation, Arrington said it is too early to determine whether he could support a bonus.
    The school board is expected to talk about the funds again in January and then make a formal request to the supervisors.

Reversion windfall
    Discussion Tuesday also focused on how to spend what is expected to be an extra $6 million in school revenue funding from the state should the proposed reversion of the city of Bedford to a town take place next July 1. That funding is expected, but not promised, for a 15-year period following reversion because of the county being able to utilize the city’s local composite index, which is more favorable in state funding than the current county LCI.
    The school board hopes to use about $3.5 million of the revenue windfall to pay for capital projects debt, including building a new middle school in the Liberty High School Zone, while using the rest to help with its general fund operating expenditures. But District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard said she believed a prior agreement early on in the reversion negotiations stated that the additional state funds would be used only for funding capital projects.
    She added that there isn’t any guarantees the county will receive the additional funds for the entire 15 years. “We have to be very careful,” she said of the plans for spending the funds. “The state will be reviewing this every two years.”
    The supervisors asked the school board to put together a plan for facilities spending that would not lead to more debt service being incurred, past that 15-year revenue window. Building the new middle school, which is included as part of the reversion agreement, is expected to cost about $30 million.
    “I certainly want to work with you, not against you,” Arrington told the school board members.
    But, he added, “tax increases will be a last resort.”
    Hostutler said the proposed school facilities plan will be reviewed by the board every year. He added that some projects would have been on the needs list, regardless of whether reversion occurs or not. “There’s no luxuries in there,” he said of the plan.
    Supervisors Vice Chairman John Sharp, however, said the extra money will definitely dry up after the 15-year mark and he wants to see a plan with the debt service being reduced dramatically at that time, as well. Otherwise, he said a future board could be saddled with having to raise tax rates dramatically.
    
Budget calendar
    The two boards also discussed the school board’s budget calendar for the upcoming 2013-2014 discussions. The tentative calendar calls for a public hearing on the budget on Feb. 7 with the superintendent presenting his budget to the school board on Feb. 28. Three work sessions are set for early March with the adoption of a preliminary budget set for March 20. A joint budget meeting of the supervisors and school board members would be held sometime in late March or early April with any amendments to the school budget occurring sometime in April or May.
    “There are a lot of unknowns out there,” noted County Interim Administrator Frank Rogers, about a variety of capital needs staff will need direction on in planning the county budget.
    Arrington noted that the school system “always has more needs than we have the money to meet them with.”

Curfew ordinance
    The school board also used the joint meeting as an opportunity to float the idea of the county implementing a curfew ordinance. That proposal came as a result of recent accidents that claimed the lives of students at Liberty High School.
    “We’re all feeling a need to try and do something to prevent these accidents from occurring in the future,” School Superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch told the supervisors.
    That proposal was made prior to the accidents that claimed the lives of three students at Staunton River High School. Those accidents, however, wouldn’t have been affected by any possible curfew ordinance. A forum on teen driving has been scheduled to address the issues further, set for this Monday, 7 p.m. at the SRHS auditorium.
    Hostutler said setting a curfew could give parents another tool to use to try and help keep their children safe.

New county administrator
    Prior to the meeting, which was held at the Bedford campus of Central Virginia Community College, the supervisors met in closed session to discuss the hiring of a new county administrator. No action was taken from that closed session.