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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Supervisors mull budget options
Some say tax hike is unlikely
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Bobby Thompson

Monday, March 11, 2013

By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer

Although neither the county's nor the schools' budgets for fiscal year 2013-14 have been finalized, several supervisors said Thursday a tax hike is most likely not on the table.

"There should be no new debt in the form of a tax hike," said Boone District Supervisor Ronnie Thompson at a budget meeting Thursday.

It was a sentiment echoed by fellow supervisors Leland Mitchell (Snow Creek District), Charles Wagner (Rocky Mount District) and David Cundiff (Union Hall District) after hearing a summary of possible scenarios for the fiscal year 2013-14 budget.

County Administrator Rick Huff and Finance Director Vincent Copenhaver presented the summary, which projects an increase in local revenue of just over $2 million.

Of that increase, a little more than $1 million would go to county schools and about $950,000 would go to county government, some of which could be earmarked for a pay raise for county employees.

Copenhaver said the extra $2 million will be from a projected increase in real estate, personal property and sales tax revenue.

The $1 million to local schools falls about $1.5 million short of their budget request, Copenhaver said, which is $2.5 million more from the county than the current budget year.

Schools have proposed a 2013-14 budget of just over $80.4 million, and that includes a 3.5-percent salary increase ($1.6 million) and enough money (about $850,000) to retain 18 positions that were funded this year with $1.4 million in carryover, one-time funding.

However, Wagner questioned whether the raise would be feasible this year without raising taxes.

"We have given employees bonuses," he said. "Maybe we can give raises next year."

Other supervisors were concerned about the $850,000.

Cundiff said when the school system used the $1.4 million in carryover funding to keep positions this year, school officials told the board they would not be back this year asking for any of that money.

"I thought we had an agreement (on the $1.4 million) last year," Cundiff said. "That (the request) bothers me."

Thompson said it bothered him as well and he understood that the school system would absorb the funding for next fiscal year and not ask for it to be replaced.

But Blue Ridge District Supervisor Bobby Thompson disagreed, saying he understood that the school system would save as much as they could and hopefully see enough of an increase in funding to retain the positions that could be lost without the funding.

"The hope was that the economy would get better," he said, adding that he saw retaining the positions as an investment.

Bobby Thompson said he supported the scenario that included a 2-cent raise in the real estate tax, from 54 cents on each $100 of assessed value to 56 cents.

That would bring in an extra $1.2 million, half of which could go to the school system and the other half to economic development initiatives, including a future industrial/business park.

"Education and economic development are both critically important," he said, and a loss in either area would not be wise for Franklin County or for students.

Gills Creek District Supervisor Bob Camicia said the school system has been able to come up with almost half of the $1.4 million and the schools have cut as much as can be cut.

Cundiff said he did not want to make any decision, though, until he sees the version of the school system's proposed budget that will be presented to the board of supervisors Tuesday night.

The school board is meeting tonight to discuss its proposed budget and make any changes.

Supervisors also heard from Huff Thursday on the county's debt service.

Franklin County, he said, has $42.4 million in outstanding debt, ranking among the lowest in the region. Only Patrick ($38.5 million), Henry ($32.2 million) and Floyd ($17 million) counties have less debt, while Roanoke City ($333 million) and Lynchburg City $306.9 million) have the highest.

"We are in a good position," Huff said, adding that $12 million of the debt is the county's and about $30 million is for schools.

The debt service will increase in coming years if planned capital projects are added, he said, including $11 million for a new radio system for the county, $2.3 million for a parks and rec multi-generational facility (for aging population), $5.2 million for a new facility for the Department of Social Services, $1.3 million for a water line to Burnt Chimney, $3 million for a business park and $2.6 million for new public safety stations at Glade Hill and Westlake.

Another possible project that will increase the debt service for the schools is a new $50 million career and technical center, Huff said.

The county is asking its financial advisors, Davenport & Company, for some guidance on the most prudent course to take in planning for projects, Huff said.

"What's the impact of all of this? What's it going to take over the next several years for these projects to get off the ground? These are some of the things we are asking Davenport to give us advice on," he said.

Huff asked to board to take a look at all of the projects.

"Do we need to address anything this year?" he asked.

Camicia did suggest the county should look into possibly cycling in some money in reserve for the new career and technical center, which most supervisors have agreed is a priority.

After visiting the current career/tech center on Franklin County High School's West Campus, Camicia said he was "devastated" to see the overcrowded conditions with no room to expand.

Supervisors have set a meeting for Tuesday, March 12 at 6 p.m. to look at the proposed budget for county schools.

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