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State cuts hit more than schools

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County prepares for less funding

By John Barnhart

Although the cut in state funds for schools is the largest single hit that the Bedford area will take, other areas will also see reductions.

    According to County Administrator Kathleen Guzi, Bedford County will get $300,000 less for constitutional officers and libraries. Constitutional officers include the sheriff, the clerk of the circuit court, the county treasurer and the commissioner of the revenue. Of these, the sheriff’s office will take the biggest reduction, a cut of $130,000 in state money.

    “Of course, Bedford Ride got hit,” Guzi added.

    Bedford Ride is a non-state agency, a non-profit organization that provides non-emergency medical transportation in the Bedford area. Bedford Ride lost $7,600 in state funding last fall. This was part of a number of cuts made by Gov. Timothy Kaine using his executive authority to keep the state budget in balance. Virginia is constitutionally mandated to have a balanced budget and falling tax revenue made cuts necessary.

    Guzi said that Hospice House, another local non-state agency, will see a $10,000 reduction in state money.

    Bedford County Social Services faces substantial cuts and the county will have to come up with the money to pay for state mandated  services.  Guzi  said  that  the  county  will  end up being responsible for 86 percent of the cost of services that are supposed to have an 80 percent state match.

    “That hurts,” she said.

    What’s more, the state is talking about closing some psychiatric units that serve minors.

    “We are concerned about where these children are going to be served,” she said.

    Guzi expects that localities are going to have to figure this out, and pay for it. This is something that is difficult to budget for because there is no way to tell in advance how much the county will need.

    The way excess fees from the circuit court are distributed will account for another local budget hit. Guzi said that localities used to get two-thirds of these fees, with one third going to the state. Now, the state will get two-thirds.

    “They are just changing the formula,” Guzi said, estimating that the change will cost Bedford County several hundred thousand dollars.

    Budgetary challenges won’t only come in the form of state cuts. Guzi said that revenue from the county’s personal property tax is down. This is because the trade-in value for light trucks and SUVs, the figure on which the tax is calculated, has gone down. Guzi said that this is the first time in 22 years that she has seen a drop in anticipated local tax revenue.

    “So in addition to state cuts, we are having local cuts as well,” she said.

    County staff normally presents budget information to the supervisors in January, but they are delaying this until February in order to get a better feel for what is coming from the General Assembly. Guzi said that a draft budget will be presented to the supervisors on February 19. Although the General Assembly won’t be finished with the state budget by this time, it reduces the risk that the supervisors will have to face major changes.