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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 still face shortfall, continue to ponder tax hikes

Friday, February 21, 2014

By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer

A third budget preview for fiscal year 2014-15 was presented to the Franklin County Board of Supervisors Tuesday and the conclusion was the same.

In order the pay for services and expenses mandated by the state, the county and school system are facing a shortfall of about $900,000.

County Administrator Rick Huff again told the board that without major cuts in personnel and services, extra revenue will be needed.

People are wondering why the county needs more money, Huff said, explaining that the county and schools have no choice but to pay for those mandates.

They include:

•Virginia Retirement System rate increase for schools - $1.3 million.

•Programs for schools - almost $500,000.

•Regional jail operations increase for county - $420,000.

•Comprehensive Services Act funding increase for county - $150,000.

Other mandates bring the total for the county and schools to about $3 million, but extra money from the state for schools and an anticipated increase in revenue for the county brings that cost down to about $900,000.

Those figures do not include additional needs for the county and schools that total more than $4 million, Huff said.

Huff also explained why it is difficult to cut the county's budget. Those reasons include:

•A 25-percent increase in animal control calls.

•A 30-percent increase in arrests, which means more people are incarcerated and going through the court system.

•65 percent of all county general government employees work in a constitutional office, courts and the department of social services or are funded by grants/billing revenue.

The shortfall does not include the rise in other expenses, such as general inflation, health care premiums, electricity and heating oil, and maintenance agreements on software, Huff said.

The board once again reviewed a scenario that includes a 2-cent increase in the real estate tax and a hike in the personal property tax and possibly the vehicle license fee.

With those tax increases, about $1.8 million would be raised for fiscal year 2014-15.

Of that money, the county would receive an extra $635,000, the schools would receive $635,000 and about $600,000 would be set aside to help fund future major projects, including a new career and technical center for the schools.

Huff also reviewed the county's status in tax rates compared to other jurisdictions in the region.

The real estate tax ranges from a low of 48 cents on each $100 of assessed value in Patrick County to $1.19 in Roanoke City. Franklin County's rate is 54 cents; Bedford is 50 cents; and Pittsylvania County is 56 cents.

On the personal property tax rate, Franklin County stands at $1.69, the third lowest in the region. Roanoke County has the highest at $2.66.

The board is also pondering whether to change the vehicle license fee, which, at this point, will be $34.25 next year. Supervisors had tentatively decided to lower it to the usual $25 and even held a public hearing on the issue, but they then tabled any action.

Supervisors took no action on the information presented Tuesday, but the board had indicated during a recent workshop that the tax increase scenario is being considered.

The school system must soon finalize its budget, and Huff had told the board they needed some guidance as to what to expect in extra revenue from the county.

A public hearing on the proposed school budget is set for March 4.

Huff also presented a chart that shows the impact of tax increases.

A 2-cent increase in the real estate tax would mean that a house assessed at $200,000 would see the tax bill rise from $1,080 annually to $1,120, a $40 hike.

If the personal property tax is raised 13 cents, the tax on a car valued at $20,000 would rise from $338 a year to $364, a $26 increase.

When a proposed 2014-15 budget is completed, it will go to a public hearing before being finalized.

The board heard more bad financial news on Tuesday from Kerry Smith, vice president of Wells Fargo Insurance Services.

She has been reviewing health insurance options for the county and said that a 14.5-percent increase in costs is coming next year. The rates will increase by 10 percent and the county will see another rise of 4.5 percent because of the extra fees paid as a result of the Affordable Health Care Act (ObamaCare).

If the coverage options stay the same, she said, the county is looking at an extra $1 million over the next three years.

Smith told the board they can save money by changing coverage options, such as eliminating coverage of spouses if that spouse is eligible to be covered under another plan.

She said wellness plans can also be promoted in an attempt to keep employees healthy and thereby reducing the costs of coverage.

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