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The ball is now in the School Board’s court
On Monday, the Bedford County Board of Supervisors voted to adopt a budget that leaves the tax rate of 50 cents per $100 of assessed valuation unchanged.
In the wake of the recent reassessment, this will mean a tax cut for most people. It will bring in about $2 million less than it did last year. The supervisors also eliminated the merchants’ capital tax, which brings in approximately $218,000.
And for the school system, it means coming up with an additional $1.1 million in cuts from its adopted budget. The supervisors, in light of the School Board’s decision to close Bedford Primary School, chose not to fully fund the school system’s funding request.
The vote was taken before a packed house, with a few people standing along the back wall. Prior to the vote, on Board Chairman Annie Pollard’s motion, the supervisors voted to move the adoption of the tax rate and budget to a position on the agenda before the 15 minute citizen comment period.
The vote to set a 50 cent tax rate was not unanimous.
“I would like to say that I will not support a 50 cent tax rate,” District 2 Supervisor Chuck Neudorfer stated. Neudorfer said that, at a 52 cent tax rate, they would still be able to give the schools an additional $650,000 and a 51 cent tax rate would allow them to transfer an additional $304,000. A 50 cent rate creates a deficit and puts the county budget back to its 2008 level.
Neudorfer also criticized balancing the budget by reducing the contingency fund balance. He said that he’s not adamant about a 53 cent tax rate, but he wouldn’t support 50 cents. He also preferred having District 1 Supervisor Dale Wheeler’s proposal to eliminate the merchants’ capital tax go through the supervisors’ tax committee, which would bring a report back to the board before action.
The board voted 5-2 to set a 50 cent real estate tax rate and eliminate the merchants’ capital tax. Neudorfer and District 7 Supervisor Gary Lowry cast the dissenting votes. Neudorfer cast the lone dissenting vote when the budget was adopted by a 6-1 vote.
Both Wheeler and District 4 Supervisor John Sharp wanted to bring up the matter on whether to withhold funds from the school division that had already been appropriated. In a meeting last week, Wheeler had suggested not appropriating amounts equal to the operating costs of any school that is closed. County Attorney Carl Boggess recommended that wasn’t the time to discuss the issue, but rather, that they should wait until they appropriate funds. The supervisors normally appropriate funds during their first meeting in June. On Boggess’ recommendation, Wheeler stopped discussion, but Sharp continued.
“We have a school system that needs to know what budget they have to work with,” said Sharp.
Sharp read a letter, which he found on the Internet, in which Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli wrote to a delegate about a board of supervisors’ control over a school budget. It stated that a school board has sole authority on school consolidation and that a board of supervisors cannot issue specific, binding instructions on how to spend money within a category. The supervisors can appropriate by category, but the school board has sole discretion within a category. A board of supervisors can express its desire, but it has no control of the effect, he noted.
Sharp scolded his fellow supervisors.
“It is the first time I have been honestly embarrassed to be part of the board of supervisors,” Sharp said, referring to the level of discourse he’s witnessed.
“I know it might feel good, but sin feels good,” he said.
Sharp also scolded the citizens attending the meeting, after saying that the supervisors were crossing a line that they can’t legally cross.
“I ask you to reconsider pushing this board across that line,” he said.
Sharp made a motion to tell the School Board that they won’t send the school division any less money than they have budgeted.
“We haven’t appropriated,” commented Wheeler. “I’m being told by my attorney that this is not the place to do this.”
“I make no commitment until we appropriate,” commented District 5 Supervisor Steve Arrington.
Sharp’s motion failed on a 5-2 vote with only Neudorfer supporting him.
“I hope they just stick to the funds they voted on,” commented District 4 School Board member Gary Hostutler after the meeting, about the supervisors. Hostutler was in attendance at Monday’s meeeting.
Hostutler said that the next school board meeting is on April 28 and there is little time to call an additional work session before that. That board will have to figure out what to cut and, if they raise class sizes, will need to figure out which teachers get laid off. He said he has never been in this situation before.
“I don’t know how we are going to figure it out,” he said.
District 2 School Board member David Vaden also attended the meeting.
“I think we ought to open both schools like the Board of Supervisors asked,” he said, adding that he believes that it was wrong to give teachers a pay raise when the board was closing a school.
“I’m going to vote ‘no’ on any budget that this board [the School Board] develops that closes a school,” he said.
Vaden said that there is no financial reason for closing Bedford Primary School. Now, as a result of that decision, the board has to take the $1.1 million out of the school budget and figure out what to cut to balance the budget with that amount eliminated.
“We could have gotten all the $1.1 million if they had voted to keep the school [Bedford Primary] open,” Vaden said.