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

All schools to get cameras
Supervisors okay funding; discuss budget issues

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer

All Franklin County schools will be getting high definition cameras as a safety precaution.

The board of supervisors voted Monday to approve about $400,000 to pay for the equipment. The funding will either be found through savings or taken from the county's fund balance.

"That (installing high definition cameras) is something that is needed to be done," said board Chairman David Cundiff, who is also chief of the Rocky Mount Police Department.

Cundiff said the cameras now in place (in the high school, middle school and at the Gereau Center) are of very poor quality.

With the funding, high definition cameras will be installed in all schools.

Supervisors made that decision during a Monday afternoon and evening meeting held to discuss several topics, including the Virginia Department of Transportation's six-year road plan for the county, health insurance for county employees and budget issues.

Much of the discussion related to the budget revolved around the proposed school budget, which requests $3 million more in operating funding than is now earmarked and over $1 million more in funding for capital projects.

Local funding to schools in the recommended county budget for fiscal year 2013-14 totals $31.5 million, which includes an additional $1 million above the current year's budget.

That money is from an expected $2 million increase in county revenue next year, mainly from various tax sources. The extra revenue would be split between the county and school system, with the county receiving just over $950,000.

Administrator Rick Huff said schools would receive about 64 percent of the total budget, or $78.9 million.

However, that is still about $3 million less in operating funds than what the school system's proposed budget includes. Schools have asked for a total of $82.9 million with the extra operating funding to avoid any layoffs, give employees at least a 2.5-percent pay raise, hire needed staff and invest in technology.

One of the main budget issues is the salary increase. Under the recommended county budget, government employees would get a 3-percent pay raise, the first in almost five years.

The funding to pay for the raises, almost $500,000, would come from the additional revenue.

For the school system to give all employees a 3-percent raise, about $1.6 million will be needed. Schools are receiving almost $450,000 in state money earmarked for a 2-percent raise for educators, but not for all employees.

However, that money could be used, along with the extra $1 million, to give all employees a raise, Huff said.

But some supervisors expressed reservations about the "step" method the school system is using to determine raises.

Under the current raise proposal from schools, employees who have been with the system for 10 years or less would receive a 2.5-percent pay raise.

Employees on step 11 to step 16 (reflecting longevity) would receive a pay raise of up to almost 8 percent.

Huff said schools have not used the step system in the last five years, and it has historically been used as a way to reward long-term teachers and as a recruiting tool.

Blackwater District Supervisor Cline Brubaker said schools have complained in the past about increasing the starting pay to recruit, but now want to give the larger increases to those at the top of the scale.

"They have got it backwards," he said.

Boone District Supervisor Ronnie Thompson pointed out that supervisors can allocate money to the school board, but it's up to them to make those decisions.

"We can't tell them how to spend it," he said. "We can only ask them to consider (our recommendation)."

"We can give them our feelings and our recommendations," said Gills Creek Supervisor Bob Camicia, "but it's up to them."

Supervisors were also concerned that the school system had included in its proposed budget for next year the $1.4 million in carryover funding that was used as one-time money this year to retain more than 20 positions.

When supervisors approved the use of that money last April, school officials said they would not be back this year asking for it again.

"The school board and administration pledged to the board of supervisors (when that carryover funding was approved last year) that either an equivalent dollar amount of cuts would be made to the proposed 2013-14 school budget or additional new revenues would be identified to take care of this," Lee Cheatham, the schools' finance director, said in September 2012.

Although some of that funding, almost $600,000, has been recovered through savings, more than $800,000 is still needed to keep those positions.

That money is part of the schools' budget request.

To some supervisors, that request and a continued increase in money requested present a problem with the school board.

"We are not happy with them (school board members)," Camicia said. "I hope we can repair the situation. I couldn't believe they could do what they did (with funding requests)."

But Blue Ridge District Supervisor Bobby Thompson cautioned that supervisors need to stay focused on their ultimate goals.

"Our job is to look at the total school system," he said. "Where can they take the money from? I think it (the school budget) is getting pretty bare."

Thompson said the availability of resources has a "cause and effect" relationship, and needs in the school system should be addressed.

"What is the right balance (in the use of resources for schools and all county services)?" he asked. "Personalities should not cloud judgments."

Supervisors were scheduled to have a joint meeting with the school board Tuesday evening at The Franklin Center to address these issues.

Huff asked Monday if the board was ready yet to advertise a budget, which at this point does not include any tax increases.

But supervisors agreed that they wanted to listen to the school board first before making that decision.

During the Monday meeting, the board also approved a change of health insurance carriers for county government employees.

Employees will next year be covered by Coventry, which offered the best rates.

Huff said the current carrier, Anthem, was including a more than 16-percent increase in rates in its proposal for next year. The rate increase was because of a spike in benefits received by some employees who faced serious medical problems, he added.

Employees will have two coverage options, depending on the size of the deductible. The county will continue to pay most of the insurance costs for employees, from 70 percent to 85 percent, depending on who (individual only, child, spouse, family) is covered and the size of the deductible chosen.

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