In their first budget work session last week, Richmond County Supervisors rigorously weighed departmental requests versus available funding.
Although they debated many issues, officials agreed on two crucial expenditures; a raise for all county employees and the inclusion of public school staff into the county’s health insurance benefits program.
On March 27, County Administrator Morgan Quicke outlined the various requests agencies had applied for, including $497,789 from the public school system, $105,547 for the aforementioned pay increases, $62,500 for an assistant commonwealth’s attorney, $52,800 for the sheriff’s office mainly covering the cost of replacement vehicles, $33,000 in a revised retirement plan for county emergency service personnel, an additional $25,000 from the YMCA which is the county’s only parks and recreation department, $19,997 from Rappahannock Community College for facility upgrades, $20,000 from the volunteer fire department as well as nearly a dozen other requests totaling $870,952 above last year’s $21.5 million budget.
After a detailed accounting of revenues, Quicke disclosed that nearly half of those requests could be covered by newly available revenue.
According to the data, an accounting duplication of $133,975 in addition to $43,538 left over from a lower than anticipated debt service on the new school construction tax levied last year, a $90,000 increase in public service corporation tax collection, $83,000 in additional real estate taxes, $31,377 in projected state increases for the county employee raises and other collections amounted to $410,724 in unengaged funds.
According to Quicke, if the additional expenditures were unilaterally approved after utilizing the newly available monies, it would result in a $460,228 deficit, or a 6.26-cent per-household real estate tax increase.
It left supervisors, who were not inclined to raise taxes, in a situation where they had to whittle away at each department’s request in order to best serve taxpayers and the services that are provided to them.
One of the first issues tackled was the request from Commonwealth’s Attorney Wayne Emery’s office requesting an assistant; a post filled by nearly all of the regions’ counties but denied for many years by local officials.
Dist. 3 Supervisor John Haynes, who has had a long and much publicized dispute with Emery, was the first to speak against the funding despite State staffing recommendations that the position was in the top 10 percent of need according to collected data from all districts.
Haynes first publicly found fault with Emery after the Commonwealth would not provide a finding regarding a lawsuit, initiated by the Concerned Tax Payers of Richmond County, to which Haynes is tied, against supervisors who supported the three-school new construction plan.
The legal maneuvering, which cost taxpayers nearly $16,000, resulted in Emery’s resignation as county attorney after a terse email from Haynes to Emery which called for his dismissal as county attorney, a position for which he received a salary of $8,000.
As a result, the county hired Richmond based firm Sands Anderson, at a cost of $15,000 annually.
“Previously, we did have to sub out a lot of things to other attorneys that I think that will be occurring much less, ultimately,” Haynes said, adding that the new system allowed for many services to be done “in house.”
Dist. 1 Supervisor Richard Thomas, however, noted his concern, asking if the allotted $15,000 could comprehensively cover county legal issues.
“Unless we have a major crisis, which could happen, it could be way up there,” Quick said.
That statement was supported by data from the 2011-12 fiscal year, where current county attorney firm Sands Anderson handled two lawsuits after they conflicted with Emery’s jurisdictional obligation according to client privilege. Those suits cost taxpayers over $30,000.
Haynes diverged, noting that typically attorney prices after the first year would go down, because “after you know it, you know it.”
He later added that after careful review, and sitting through that day’s criminal docket, “most of them were nolle prossed” and he could not justify increased funding considering his opinion of Emery’s current caseload.
Other cuts came from an understanding between Richmond County Sheriff Douglas Bryant and officials to reduce his request from three to two new cars, the decision not to fund RCC improvements, which would have bound the county to a 10-year commitment, a situation Chairman Lee Sanders said would not be fair in the interest of taxpayers; and unknown future budgetary commitments and agreements to level fund the Free Health Clinic and the Chesapeake Bay Tourism Committee.
Requests from the county’s Family Development Program, which includes a mainly state sponsored pre-school requiring a small county match, and is looking for funding additional students; EMS; the Little League program and the YMCA have all been placed as priorities if extra monies become available.
County EMS workers are not expected to get a boon this fiscal year after retirement benefit changes were not approved.
After asking to be included in the LEOS, or Law Enforcement Officer’s retirement System, something Chief Greg Baker has repeatedly asked for in recent years, Haynes noted that with the austere budget, funding was not available.
“If we’re going to get more bang for my buck I think I’d take care of the volunteer fire department,” Thomas said, adding that the group saves the county money and should be a priority for additional funding.
Funding was also allocated to the registrar’s office in preparation of state regulations requiring new voting machines.
Additionally, $102,240 was scheduled for the school’s inclusion in the county health insurance plan, however that funding, Quicke said in a follow-up interview, would be in-and-out as it would be transferred from the school budget’s line item.
Other essential services, including a school resource officer and assistant registrar were also approved.
Supervisors will hold another work session Tuesday, April 10, 6 p.m. at the county meeting building where they will further examine ways to keep the budget lean while providing the crucial county employee raises.