Facts, Resources, and Observations from Spotsylvania County Budget Process
On February 20th, the Board of Supervisors voted 4-3 to advertise the real estate tax rate at .85 cents for the FY19 budget. This decision allows the supervisors additional flexibility in their budget deliberations, by opening the possibility of adding up to $4.7 million to the budget. For each penny increase in the real estate tax rate, roughly $1.4 million of revenue is collected. The adopted tax rate can be lowered but cannot be raised above .85 cents. The tax rate in the County Administrator’s Recommended Budget was the equalized rate of .8164 cents.
Advertised Tax Rate Vote Breakdown:
- Chairman Benton: Yes; Made motion to advertise at .85 cents, but not quite there yet to adopt
- Vice Chair Trampe: No; no comment
- Supervisor Marshall: Yes; no comment
- Supervisor McLaughlin: No; no comment
- Supervisor Ross: No; no comment
- Supervisor Skinner: Yes; no comment
- Supervisor Yakabouski: Yes; no comment
The Supervisors have had three meetings so far to discuss the budget on February 13, 15, 20. The link to the budget material along with some observations from the first three meetings are below.
The School Budget discussion with the Supervisors seldom touched on specific items the schools were asking for additional funding to support. Most of the talk was spent discussing per pupil spending, English Learners, student enrollment numbers, and how much the Schools have received in previous years. However, almost no time was spent on the vital question ‘Are our local school expectations being met?’ and if not, what funding is actually needed to meet those county expectations? An answer to that question has eluded Spotsylvania County for the last several years.
To be sure, several Supervisors support proactively working to fully fund the school budget rather than consisting providing leftover surplus funds when they exist. Even the current year, when a large surplus permitted an additional $3 million to be added to the Schools, there still was not a robust discussion on school needs.
In some sense the School Board seems to allow this by focusing on the abstract such as per pupil spending and funding trajectories rather than focusing on a more detailed approach highlighting the affects of not funding the budget. What are we losing? What are the consequences of not funding the full budget? At times this detailed approach emerges but not enough to force Supervisors less inclined to provide additional funding to state their perception of the state of Spotsy schools.
As both sides work to outmaneuver the other side in their presentations, it’s the children that ultimately get lost in the perception game.
Transportation Projects and County Funding
Supervisor Yakabouski dedicated considerable time to speak about the cost of County funding to transportation projects. Below are two graphs from the County Administrator’s budget presentation which shows two things. Transportation projects that are up for funding in FY19 and the trajectory of funding that will be needed to support transportation projects in the Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) over the next five years. Currently we have dedicated funding streams for transportation projects from local fuel taxes. These funds pay Spotsylvania’s allocation to the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) and Potomac Rappahannock Transportation Committee (PRTC). The leftover funds can be used for transportation projects in the county. However, due to lower fuel costs the last few years, the generated revenue has fallen short of meeting projections to fund CIP projects. In this case, General Fund revenue (traditionally used for schools, public safety, and social services) has been needed to be transferred to fill the shortfall. The Virginia General Assembly is considering a bill to place a fuel tax floor price that might stabilize the funding, but there is no guarantee it resolves the issue in the short term. Therefore, in FY23 the County is expecting to have a $3.8 million funding gap, which reduces the amount of funding available for General Fund expenditures.
At the February 20th meeting, the Finance Department appeared to indicate that due to the current level of debt service the county is carrying coupled with the new fiscal policy guidelines, the county would likely need to alter those guidelines, possibly affecting the county’s credit rating, in order to acquire the borrowing power to build a new school facility if a school is needed over the next five years. See Minute Marker 1:54:50.
The Animal Shelter costs have increased to close to $7 million. Most of the Supervisors expressed concern over the rising cost of the project. County Staff stated that increasing construction costs and fine tuning the building plan has led to most of the increases. This project is in two parts: a renovation and an expansion of the existing facility. The renovation is required to bring the facility up to state standards. The expansion is to allow the use of the facility to meet county needs for the next 15-20 years. This project could be scaled back on the expansion part, but the renovations will likely have to move forward without new Board direction on the project. The initial project budget was roughly $3.5 million.
The Marshall Center renovations are included in the 5 year CIP with an estimated cost of $5-10 million to upgrade electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems. These costs do not include retrofitting the building’s interior to attempt to broaden its possible uses for county office space.
A new discussion item that has generated increased Board discussion is the construction of a new Social Service (DSS) Building, which is estimated to cost roughly $8-9 million. This new building would allow the Health Department to co-locate with DSS. This would also allow for additional space for Social Services to expand in the future. It would also allow DSS to hire more employees to meet the county’s current needs. While this number fluctuates, DSS Director Crooks told the Board on February 15th that DSS is serving 153 foster children, but only have a staff to ideally serve 103 children. DSS has exhausted all space saving measures to maximize use of space in their current location but have not recommended hiring new employees since there is no space for them. Chairman Benton voiced strong support for a new DSS building. Supervisor Ross expressed an interest in looking for other county facilities and believed renting commercial space might be a cheaper option than a new building.
Lastly, Chairman Benton stated that it was an insult to the community that only Fire Station 1 was provided 24/7 ALS support, while Fire Stations 4 and 8 were left out of recommended budget. He believed all Fire Stations should have 24/7 Advanced Life Support (ALS) coverage.
- Click here to read Jeff Branscome’s Free Lance-Star article on the School Budget.
- Click here to read Jeff Branscome’s Free Lance-Star article on the County Budget.
- Click here to read a Free Lance-Star Editorial about teacher shortages in Virginia.
- Click here to read Jeff Branscome’s Free Lance-Star article on the .85 cents advertised tax rate.
- Click here to review the County Budget.
- Click here to review the School Board Budget.