Supervisors work to close budget hole

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By John Barnhart

Kathleen Guzi, the county’s administrator, noted that we are in truly unique economic times.

    “There’s more unknowns this year than I’ve ever had,” she told the supervisors at a budget work session last week.

    Guzi noted that this is the first time in 22 years that she has had to deal with a downward spiral in personal property tax revenue. She is confident that there will be growth again, but she doesn’t know whether the current downturn will be short term.

    She told the supervisors that the budget she is giving them calls for a level funded transfer to the school division. The school division will absorb the state cuts.

    Constitutional officers, in turn, will be absorbing their state cuts. Guzi said the state also cut them last year, but other departments absorbed them. That’s not possible this year because these other departments are scheduled for cuts of their own as there is less local money available.

    So far, $1.8 million has been cut out of the budget and the supervisors are looking for an additional $3 million in cuts in order to create a balanced budget.

    Guzi presented six possible options for finding those cuts. Some included action on $305,000 currently in the budget for converting the old county nursing home building for use as an assisted living facility. Guzi said that the building is structurally sound but needs a great deal of work. It’s currently being used by the Central Virginia Area on Aging (CVAA) for programs for elderly residents. Food for these programs used to come from Goode’s Country Kitchen but, now that Goode’s has closed, CVAA will need a place to prepare food. She said the building could be used to expand services for the elderly and the county could partner with additional organizations to do this. This may serve the county’s elderly population better than an assisted living facility.

    There was a consensus among the supervisors to see if a private enterprise would be interested in setting up assisted living there. The private business would do the renovation work. District 2 Supervisor Chuck Neudorfer and Board Chairman John Sharp had earlier stated that they don’t want the county competing with private enterprise.

    The option packages also deal with how to deal with vacancies. Some contain a proposal to not fill vacancies until $189,000 of cost savings are achieved.

    “We are trying to be creative here,” said Guzi, who noted that it’s easier to not fill a vacancy than to lay workers off.

    Some staff vacancies, however, will be filled.  Vacancies at the county nursing home, among paid emergency medical service workers, at refuse collection centers and the 911 call center will be filled.

    One person they agreed to hire, outside of the public safety area, is a second attorney for the county attorney’s office. They chose this because there is already a contract attorney working there.

    There was also discussion on the school budget.

    “I don’t want to add to their pain,” said Sharp.

    Neudorfer also favored level funding transfers to the school budget.

    “That way we don’t have to listen to a lot of conversation about what we did to the school budget,” he said

    “I don’t think it’s my responsibility to send kids to college,” commented District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard. “They have a lot of fluff in their budget.”

    District 1 Supervisor Dale Wheeler said that it may end up not being possible to level fund these transfers.

    “We can’t tax our way out of the hole we are in,” he said.

    Wheeler noted that the package of cuts they will come up with will probably be a hybrid of the options Guzi presented. He noted that each of the six have something that at least one supervisor is uncomfortable with.

    Along with a drop in anticipated personal property tax receipts, and the tax collection rate, Guzi said that the county has also seen a major drop in interest it receives, building permit fees and a minor drop in meals tax receipts. Sales tax receipts are not projected to go down.