Despite months of debate, concessions and concerted efforts to ensure that Richmond County had allocations that were lean yet productive, one of the regions five districts was left without a voice during last week’s final budget hearing.
On May 16, supervisors met in what is normally a routine hearing where a finalized budget, which had been hashed out in multiple work sessions since departmental requests were first made nearly two months ago, is either approved or challenged by the elected members.
Although all the budgetary requests had previously been passed by a consensus, before the final motion was even made, a surprise decision by Dist. 3 Supervisor John Haynes to not only abstain from any decision on behalf of his constituents, but to leave the room altogether, left many in attendance, both elected and in the audience, stunned.
At issue was a balanced budget, diligently laid out by County Administrator Morgan Quicke, of $22,211,193, with expenditures meeting revenues and no increase in taxes.
Those final numbers included the funding of at-risk pre-school students in the public educational program, a 3 percent raise for county employees, funding for both the YMCA and Little League as well as a 2 percent pay hike for teachers with the inclusion of a 1 percent addition to the county’s contribution to the Virginia Retirement System changeover, which the district will incrementally shoulder the burden of until 2016.
“That bottom line figure remains the same, so that number is the exact budget as advertised May 2,” Quicke said.
Haynes, however, went against recommendations specified by the Virginia County Supervisors’ Manual, as published by the Virginia Association of Counties (VACO), which he recently spent taxpayer dollars studying and completing a course in local governmental policy.
“I would ask that the school budget and the general budget be handled separately,” Haynes said. “I plan on abstaining from one of the votes, but I do not want to abstain from both.”
Haynes did not elaborate as to which vote he was questioning.
According to VACO, had the county wished to split the budget, it should have publicly advertised notice of the delineation at least seven days prior to May 15, a day before Haynes’ declaration.
Chairman Lee Saunders spoke in accordance with those rules.
“We are here today to pass the whole budget, not to pass bits and pieces of the budget,” he said.
“That’s not what I am saying. It’s done quite often counties that you (sic) for one thing, the school, we have a timeframe,” Haynes said. “We have to act immediately. It is not all unusual [and] I am asking that if it is voted down, so be it.”
Haynes’ motion is not unheard of in larger districts, where educational budgets can be more than quadruple local numbers.
According to the commonwealth’s rule, the public education system has until May 15 to come up with its budget, while county expenditures, outside schools, have until the end of June.
In data compiled from the past 10 years, many rural jurisdictions, such as Richmond County, regularly present and vote on the budget at the same time.
In larger districts, the budgets are more often separated, allowing time to focus on each section individually.
The measure to split the vote was defeated, with only Haynes in support. After the motion, Haynes opted to leave the meeting.
“I will therefore abstain from both votes and I will leave the room until the votes are done,” Haynes said, despite the clear ruling of only one vote being debated.
Although Sanders told Haynes that his absence was unnecessary, Haynes departed adding that his absence was “recommended.”
During a May 20 interview, a VACO spokesman said that although a board member can abstain from any vote they chose, it is usually for one of two reasons.
“There is either a conflict of interest inherent in the vote or the supervisor feels inadequately educated on the matter at hand,” the representative said.
Haynes did not reply to numerous inquiries from the Northern Neck News, nor did he explain during the meeting, as to why he abstained or left the meeting.
“Even if a supervisor were a school employee, they are part of such a larger pool that it would not preclude them from voting,” the spokesman said, adding that ultimately Haynes must answer as to the reasons behind his abstention.
The final budget was passed 3-1, with Dist. 2 Supervisor Jean Harper dissenting and Haynes abstaining.