By Nancy Lindsey
The Patrick County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Monday night to approve the 2016-2017 county budget without changes.
The budget totals $41.9 million and provides a salary increase of at least 3% to all county employees.
Following a lengthy discussion and comments from two members of the public, Dan River District Supervisor Roger Hayden, board chairman, said, “We’ve hashed over the budget and in the end, with state requirements and department requirements, I think we’re ready to go ahead and pass Mr. Rose’s budget.”
Blue Ridge District Supervisor Karl Weiss made the motion to approve the budget, which was seconded by Smith River District Supervisor Crystal Harris. Voting with Weiss and Harris were Hayden and Peters Creek District Supervisor Rickie Fulcher.
Mayo River District Supervisor Lock Boyce cast an adamant “no” vote.
“The reason I support the budget is I think it’s the best we can do at this time,” Hayden said. “I still disagree with the tax increase but I didn’t have enough support on the board to prevent it from happening.”
The board voted 3-2 March 30 to raise the real estate rate from 54.5 cents per $100 assessed value to 57 cents per $100.
Immediately after the vote on the budget, Weiss made a motion to use 1.5 cents of the tax increase to institute a paid emergency medical services (EMS) system in Patrick County. Harris seconded the motion.
“We need to delay it until we get more information, talk to people in Franklin County and Floyd County before we jump off the deep end of the pool,” Boyce said. “This would be a really stupid thing to do.”
Hayden asked if Harris, as captain of the Smith River Rescue Squad, had “a conflict of interest” in EMS matters. County Attorney Alan Black said there is no conflict of interest in her case.
Fulcher said he thought it was premature to designate the funds without having a plan worked out for spending them.
“When we get 10 countywide tones for mutual aid and can’t get someone to drive, it’s bad,” Harris said. “I know something has got to be done.”
Boyce said some plans are being worked on, but didn’t elaborate.
“I’ve been on the board nine years and nothing has been done,” Weiss said.
The vote was 3 to 2 against the motion, with Fulcher, Boyce and Hayden voting to defeat it.
“This penny and a half will get sucked up into the general fund,” Weiss said.
Harris said the board also needs to consider that if EMS personnel are paid, the fire departments will want to be paid for their work too.
Marvin Foley was the first citizen to speak during the public comment session. He said the rich people in the county make enough money to go to Disney World, but the poor people can only go to “Dizzy World,” by spinning around until they get dizzy, as children do.
There’s no equity in the system that pays 2% or 3% to employees whether they are bus drivers or administrators, Foley said: “the 100,000 guy gets a $3,000 raise but the one making $15,000 a year can’t afford to go (to Disney World).”
He said sawmillers and other manual laborers get up earlier and work harder than people who work in offices, but the blue-collar workers get paid a lot less.
“You need more bird dogs guarding the henhouse from the fox,” Foley said. “The money should be spent equally.”
John Reynolds said he agreed with some of Foley’s comments, especially the point about across-the-board increases benefiting the higher-paid administrators more than those at the bottom of the pay scale.
Most state employees have higher benefits along with pay, Reynolds said, noting that many people in private industries haven’t gotten salary increases in years.
In addition, landowners in the county are hit harder by a real estate tax increase than those with small amounts of property, but “you’re asking us to pick up the tab,” Reynolds said.
He said he hoped the board would find additional revenue before adding to the burden on private landowners.
“I agree,” Fulcher said. “As a board we need to start thinking outside the box. There are opportunities out there. We need to stop huddling around and being afraid to make changes.”
Weiss said he continues to be “a fan of the meals tax,” which has now been defeated as a ballot referendum five times. However, Weiss said he thought the meals tax could be put on the ballot by district.
“Ninety percent of the meals tax comes from outside folks,” Weiss said.