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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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Board mulling action on projected shortfall

Monday, January 27, 2014

By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer

With almost $3 million in mandatory extra spending for fiscal year 2014-15 and about $2 million in an expected revenue increase, the Franklin County Board of Supervisors is pondering its options to handle the shortfall.

County Administrator Rick Huff told the board in a budget workshop Thursday evening that the shortfall related to the mandatory expenses for both the county and school system will total about $900,000, and he needs some direction related to whether to look at cuts.

"We do not have the money for the mandates unless we cut," he said, adding that he doesn't want to go through the process of trying to find cuts if the board is considering a real estate tax increase.

Huff said the problem the county has is that significant cuts have already been made, mostly in personnel, and departments are not in the position to trim their budgets yet again.

School officials have also said that cuts have already impacted the quality of education and there is no place left to cut.

Huff presented the board with a list of mandatory expenses for both the county and school system for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

For the county, the list includes an operational increase at the regional jail ($420,000), capital requirement for the regional jail ($222,000), a 30-percent increase in the costs related to the Comprehensive Services Act ($150,000), courthouse security screeners (when renovation work is completed) $125,000 and a state-mandated stormwater specialist ($55,000).

For the schools, the list includes a Virginia Retirement System rate increase ($.1.2 million), a scheduled 1-percent contribution to the VRS ($193,000) and several programs that total almost $500,000 that are required by the state for an increase in funding.

That means more than $2.9 million in mandatory expenses, with a projected revenue increase for both the county and school system (from the state) of about $2 million.

These lists do not include other priorities for the county and schools. The funding needed to cover those priorities totals more than $6 million.

Huff said the increased costs of the regional jail are due to the average daily population of inmates jumping from 132 in 2013 to a projected 169 this year, and 172 expected by 2015.

The state, he said, is offering no increased revenue at all with many of the county's expenses that are mandated as localities continue to pick up the tab.

Huff said it is too early to predict the amount of any carryover funding from either the county or schools, but that money should go into the capital budget to take care of about $6 million worth of needs that have been accumulating, including $250,000 for new voting machines.

Most supervisors did not indicate whether they are inclined to look at any possible tax hikes for 2014-15.

But both Snow Creek Supervisor Leland Mitchell and Boone District Supervisor Ronnie Thompson said the recent election showed residents may not be agreeable to an increase.

Both were re-elected in November 2013, beating opponents who were vocal supporters of more funding for schools.

"It's already been said what they (voters) feel about it (a tax hike)," Thompson said.

Thompson also said the option included in last year's tax to bills to voluntarily contribute money to the schools brought in less than $800.

"That sent a pretty good message, didn't it?" he asked.

However, supervisors did not tell Huff to begin studying possible cuts.

Instead, they agreed to meet again on Feb. 4 to further discuss the dilemma, as well as hear updates on any possible changes in projected revenue.

They also indicated the need to give the school system some direction soon on how much extra money, if any, will be available.

Each 1-cent increase in the real estate tax would bring in about $635,000 annually. The tax now stands at 54 cents on each $100 of assessed value.

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