By Nancy Lindsey
The Patrick County Board of Supervisors is looking at a proposed county budget for 2016-2017 that totals $41,965,180 in estimated revenues and would give every county employee a salary increase of at least 3% plus a 1% Virginia Retirement System (VRS) increase.
One exception to the 4% increase is the proposal to raise the supervisors’ pay from $31,680 (for all five members) to $34,850, which is a 10.01% increase. The person serving as chairman for the year makes slightly more than the other four members.
That increase puts the supervisors’ salaries at approximately the same level as in 2009, when they were cut, according to County Administrator Tom Rose.
The board has not yet voted on that item or the budget as a whole.
The salaries of the constitutional officers—sheriff, commonwealth’s attorney, clerk of circuit court, commissioner of revenue and treasurer—are set by the state, leaving the board flexibility only in how much to pay their employees or other county employees.
The board voted March 14 to set a public hearing for March 30 to consider a proposed increase in the real estate tax rate from 54.5 cents to 57 cents, which would generate about $390,000 in new revenues.
The board can vote on the budget at that meeting or wait until later in the spring.
At the March 14 meeting, the board went through the 246-page “budget book” which lists requested expenditures by department.
Even though the school budget is the largest part of the overall county budget, it is only sketched out in the document because school officials have been waiting for final figures from the state—the source of most of the school funding.
The county budget shows the total school budget at $27,327,211, while school administrators estimate it at $30 million for the coming year. The county’s contribution to the school budget is listed at $6,602,666, the same as in the current year.
Rose said the board will hear reports from school officials, Sheriff Dan Smith and Mickie Martin, E-911 coordinator, before finalizing the county budget.
Smith River District Supervisor Crystal Harris said she was looking at the overall increases requested by each department head. “Anything below a five percent increase is no big problem,” she said.
Most departmental requests fell into that category.
“I’ve been through the budget and basically we’re not going to get a much better budget,” said Dan River District Supervisor Roger Hayden. Most of the increase is due to pay raises, VRS and required items like “the new voting machines the state is forcing upon us,” Hayden said.
The electoral board budget shows an increase of 352.22%, primarily due to the state-mandated new voting equipment that will cost $179,000, with estimated reimbursement of $5,534 from the State Board of Elections.
Patrick County Registrar Susan Taylor was quoted in the budget book as saying: “Some of the expenses related to elections will not be known until we actually have the new equipment in place and actually see what the costs will be (examples: ballots, software fees/service contracts, election preparation, etc.)”
The board discussed the budget requests with Treasurer Sandra Stone and Commissioner of Revenue Janet Rorrer.
Board members questioned Stone about judicial sale expenses, which are expected to cost $10,000 in the coming fiscal year. These consist of the sale of real estate that nobody pays taxes on, because an estate has so many heirs, mostly absentee, that it’s impossible to find someone who actually owns the land. The other problem is the 14 tracts of land found to be “nonexistent,” Stone said.
Stone said the judicial sales are part of a cleanup process which helps get the real estate into the hands of taxpayers who actually pay their taxes.
Rorrer said when the county switched to twice-yearly billing in 2010, it created a heavy workload on her office. During the 2008-2009 fiscal year she had three full-time positions and one part-time position, and also received an additional general office clerk position.
The real estate market has since declined, taking some of the workload away from the office, Rorrer said. Much of the information is now on the Internet, she said, and she believes she can go back to three full-time and one part-time positions.
Hayden asked how land owned by state and federal governments affects county revenues.
Rorrer said the county has about 12 conservation easements, which reduce the value of the property. Hayden said such easements actually cost other taxpayers more by taking the land out of the economy.
Mayo River District Supervisor Lock Boyce, who usually considers himself the taxpayer watchdog on the board, went through the budget with few adverse comments.
“There’s not much we can do about this,” Boyce said of several departmental requests.
Steve Allen, emergency management coordinator, explained that he needs a new decontamination and treatment tent for victims of hazardous materials and methamphetamine contamination, at a cost of $17,000. The old haz-mat tent is no longer usable, he said.
Emergency cots can be kept in the mobile trailer if they are needed to treat patients, Allen said. The tent can be inflated as needed, he said.
Allen said there was an incident when children who were exposed to a meth lab were videotaped by a Martinsville television station, and the tent would have protected their privacy and safety.
Boyce asked how many times decontamination equipment was needed in the past. Allen said there have been several meth lab incidents, in both the Stuart and Woolwine areas.
Peters Creek District Supervisor Rickie Fulcher said if the tornado that struck Ararat had hit Blue Ridge Elementary School, the decontamination tent might have been useful to treat students.
“We need to supply Steve with the equipment he needs to be the emergency management coordinator, and move on,” said Blue Ridge District Supervisor Karl Weiss.
In response to questioning from the board, Allen said that Lamont Bryant, his part-time assistant, runs calls for rescue squads, fights fires, teaches CPR classes and helps with administrative duties.
Allen said Bryant was also in the Ararat area helping with clean-up after the tornado. (So was Allen.)
“I’d like to see his pay increased,” Weiss said, making a motion that Bryant’s pay be increased to $13 an hour. “He’s a blessing to the county.”
The board approved the motion unanimously.
Boyce said the county animal shelter is doing well and is not euthanizing any “adoptable” animals, only those that were surrendered by their owners or diseased.
He thanked the anonymous donor whose donations help make improvements at the shelter.
Boyce raised his usual objections to increased funds for the Patrick County Branch Library, which is requesting an increase from $267,355 to $269,263.
“I’d like to see what the board thinks about level funding for the regional library,” Boyce said.
An increase of $1,900 is not a tremendous amount, Harris said. “That’s less than 3%.
Hayden said some people think books are obsolete, but many people still enjoy reading. In addition, the computers at the library are frequently used, he said.
Boyce said he still thinks people should sign up to use the computers so there would be a record in case a criminal call gets traced to the library. A small fee would not be a bad idea, he added.
The board agreed on level funding of $6,000 for Citizens Against Family Violence, and seemed inclined to approve a $2,300 increase for the Blue Ridge Airport Authority.
Otherwise, the supervisors didn’t make any changes in the broad “contributions” category, which encompasses items from the local food bank to the health department.
The board will continue discussion of the proposed budget and the proposed tax increase at the meeting next Monday, which will begin at 6 p.m.