Lean budget year expected

County officials predicted a lean budget year at a meeting of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors Monday.

“It’s going to be a difficult budget this year. The hardest I’ve done,” said County Administrator Tom Rose, noting the county has “perpetual bills” to pay.

Lock Boyce, chairman and of the Mayo River District, said the “three elephants in the room” in terms of expenses are county schools, career fire and EMS crews and the Transient Occupancy Tax.

He suggested holding the line on any budget proposed by the Patrick County School division, and capping local funding at $7.4 million. He cited declining enrollment, and said holding the line on expenses “is going to take some work from the school board.”

Boyce said 16 people were hired to man career fire and EMS crews in what he referred to as “a broken down ambulance,” and at a cost he estimated at $500,000 per year.

He said the county cannot afford the paid service, and that when supervisors approved a motion to move ahead with the service in November, they did so without a written plan or any direction in terms of how the service would be designed.

“We’re going to need that money,” Boyce said, and added getting the hospital operational is the county’s first priority.

Currently, funds generated by the Transient Occupancy Tax are split 80/20; the county receives 20 percent of the proceeds, while the majority are spent for tourism and marketing programs.

When the tax ordinance was first approved, Boyce said a majority of the businesses involved were small, and asked for 100 percent of the proceeds to be spent to help promote businesses.

At the time, Boyce said tax proceeds were estimated at $10,000 per year. “Nobody thought it would be more.”

Now, he said the amount of tax proceeds have increased to an estimated $500,000 annually.

According to Rose, and discussion at the meeting, the Transient Occupancy Tax generated $370,000 to $400,000 in proceeds last year.

Boyce said the county is entitled to take up to 40 percent. “I think it’s time to revisit the ordinance and get our 40 percent,” he said.

Boyce said he knows his suggestions will lead to “heated discussions, gnashing of teeth and there will be a big fight over every one of them, but we have heavy expenses” in the upcoming budget.

Providing insurance to employees, for example, increased by $750,000 in the current budget year, he said.

Rose said he does not anticipate an increase as steep as the current year, but does expect those costs to rise.

Regardless, Boyce said “the hospital closing was a catastrophe. We have lost residents. County revenues are declining. I thought we were as low as we could go, but we’re plumbing new depths.”

Boyce maintained the county must address his suggestions, “otherwise we’ll have a train wreck.”

Karl Weiss, of the Blue Ridge District, said much of the funding earmarked for tourism is reinvested in the community. He also noted the Tourism Advisory Council (TAC) voted to give each county park $10,000 per year. The parks can save the annual allotments to pay for larger projects, if needed, Weiss said.

The TAC also gives grants to businesses and otherwise helps position the county as a tourist destination, he added.

In other matters, supervisors:

*Approved an easement agreement with MBC.

*Met in closed session to discuss personnel, real estate and contractual matters.

Following closed session, the board approved a motion to appoint Roger Gammons to the TAC to fill an existing, unexpired term.

*Plans to issue an invitation to meet February 21 with the Patrick County Economic Development Authority and the Stuart Town Council, at a time and place to be determined.

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