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Bedford County’s supervisors unanimously approved an $89.17 million budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. This includes a local transfer of $38.04 million to Bedford County Schools, $3.5 million less than the school board had asked for.
Although all supervisors voted in favor of the budget, some expressed concerns. District 2 Supervisor Curry Martin wanted assurance that the budget did not endanger the 3 percent raises for school employees that the school board’s budget contained.
“If you adopt what you propose tonight, I believe it will be in there,” Dr. Douglas Schuch, superintendent of schools, assured the supervisors.
District 1 supervisor Bill Thomasson said he would like to see the county schools provide more vocational training.
District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard expressed concern about several issues, including the transfer to the school division. She referred to the “crap we took from some teachers.”
“I don’t want to rob taxpayers, who can’t afford it, to pay a bunch of crybabies,” she said.
Pollard also felt that money in the budget slated for additional paid ambulance crew staff should come out of the money that the county’s department of fire and rescue gets from billing insurance companies, rather than the taxpayers. Finally, she questioned the need for a fire and rescue volunteer coordinator and expressed displeasure over the plan to let the fire and rescue department take over part of the former county group home in return for paying the debt service on that facility for three years.
Pollard was assured by Deputy County Administrator Frank Rogers and other supervisors that the county continues to look for a buyer or someone willing to lease the facility. Rogers also noted that there will be other opportunities between the time the budget is adopted and the time the supervisors appropriate the funds at the end of June to revisit the budget.
The supervisors also heard from Brian Key and Elmer Hodge, representing the new regional water authority, on a proposal to provide water to Forest from Smith Mountain Lake, purifying the water at a new treatment plant to be built on the site of the former Camp 24, in Moneta.
Key said this would solve two needs. One is that the county is obligated under the reversion agreement to provide a back-up water source to Bedford. The second need is to provide water to Forest, something that the county already does by buying water from Lynchburg.
According to Key, the problem with buying water from Lynchburg is that the only deal the county is being offered for the future is to lease capacity in Lynchburg’s water treatment plant for $720,000 per year for the next 20 years. Part of the problem with this is that it will actually cost more than the rate Lynchburg currently charges unless the county uses more than 2 million gallons per day. Bedford County currently buys less than that. Furthermore, Key said that it currently costs more to buy water from Lynchburg than it costs the county to produce it using the technology that its High Point Plant uses to purify water form Smith Mountain Lake.
According to Key, it will be more cost effective in the long run to build a water treatment plant, with a capacity of 12 million gallons per day on the Camp 24 property, and run a water line from there through Bedford and to Forest. Key said that taxpayer money won’t be used for this — it will be funded by water and sewer rate fees.
District 4 supervisor John Sharp brought up the concern about possible future annexations by Lynchburg. He said Bedford County’s ability to provide utilities is a defense against annexation. Not being dependent on Lynchburg for utilities could help protect the county from having portions annexed should the current annexation moratorium expire. Hodge, a former Roanoke County administrator who has served on the state Commission on Local Government, confirmed this.
“Utilities are a factor to consider,” he said.
At the beginning of the meeting, county resident David Lowry spoke on the waterline issue.
“It doesn’t make sense to run a 23 mile water line across the county at the cost of $34 million,” he said.
Lowry also said that the county doesn’t need to use Smith Mountain Lake as a water source because the James River has 18 times the water flow as does the Roanoke River, which feeds the lake.
He was also concerned that the line will run across prime agricultural land and lead to pressure to open that land for development.