By Debbie Hall
Real estate taxes in Patrick County will remain level this fiscal year, but cuts are expected as the county’s deficit nears $900,000.
The Patrick County Board of Supervisors will hold a work session at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 2, in the Patrick County Veterans Memorial Building. In addition to working on the budget, the agenda also includes discussions of health insurance and an extension for real estate tax payments.
At their March 25 meeting, the supervisors unanimously voted against an up to 4-cents increase to the current 68-cents per $100 of assessed value real estate tax rate.
Interim County Administrator Geri Hazelwood encouraged the board to approve the take hike to make up the $843,447 shortfall.
“We are close to where we ended up last year,” in terms of the deficit, she said. The up to 4 cents increase “would help tremendously, but you still would have to make very significant cuts to the budget. We all knew this was going to be a very difficult.”
Denise Stirewalt, of the Peters Creek District, said that although she understands the dilemma, “I personally do not feel right about” increasing real estate taxes.
“I don’t see how the people can stand it,” said Clayton Kendrick, of the Mayo River District.
Clyde Deloach, of the Blue Ridge District, told Hazelwood that while he appreciates the work she has done on the budget, but particularly now “with this coronavirus, it’s just so uncertain what’s going to happen,” he also cannot support a tax hike.
Vice chairman Crystal Harris, of the Smith River District, said she also does “not think the people can handle” an increased real estate tax rate. “This board’s going to have to cut more. I don’t want to cut them, but we’ve got to.”
“It seems like every time we cut something, when it comes in, its more” than anticipated, Deloach said.
Jane Fulk, chairman and of the Dan River District, said that she also appreciated Hazelwood’s work and “I know where you’re coming from, but there are people who draw $750 a month and are deciding now whether they can eat” and afford their medicine.
“They just don’t have the money” to pay a higher real estate tax, “and I can’t see forcing them to live on the streets. “We’re just going to have to cut. Everybody will have to realize this is not a good year.”
Earlier, Fulk said “there’s no place you’re going to make a big cut. We’ll have to make small cuts everywhere. I’m not saying we will get it balanced, but I think we will get close” to operating with a balanced budget in the upcoming fiscal year.
In other matters, the board:
*Heard insurance presentations from Bill Clark and Sam Early.
Clark encouraged the supervisors to research other potentially cost saving options, including the insurance marketplace. He and his wife analyzed the cost of the county’s current insurance plan, through Benefit Plan Administrators, and determined the county will spend an annualized rate of nearly $4.9 million, or about $695.70 per month per eligible employee enrolled in the plan for health insurance premiums only. Clark noted that cost does not include vision, dental or flex-spending accounts.
There are an estimated 581 eligible employees, according to data Clark said the county provided to him.
If the county ceases to provide health insurance coverage, it would be required to pay a penalty to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of $2,570 per employee for 551 employees because the first 30 employees are free, Clark said.
“That leaves a gross savings of 2,416,356” the county could spend in another way, Clark said. “I would suggest you should probably allocate some of this money to help them (employees) buy insurance.”
The Clark’s research also showed that if employees registered for Anthem’s HealthKeepers Bronze 50/50 plan that is available through the marketplace, the total cost of premiums would be $2.4 million. The county potentially could tap the more than $2.4 million savings to pay the total premium cost of that plan, Clark said, adding that he did not include certain variables, such as higher incomes, tobacco use, and other factors, in the calculations. The variables could make the premium costs higher, he noted.
As a disclaimer, Clark said he wanted to “make it clear that my wife and I neither one are insurance professionals,” but rather the two researched the idea “to fill a gap that I think may not actually be considered. I’m not recommending you adopt this idea, only that additional research on this idea might be prudent. My only recommendation is the county consider this idea and work around obstacles that may arise.”
*Heard a report from Schools Superintendent Dean Gilbert, who said that “the division has received a lot of guidance with respect to schools closing for the remainder of the year due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and is working to determine how to proceed.” Gilbert also presented an update on the division’s proposed budget.
Gilbert also discussed potential changes to the division’s budget as a result of the spending plans approved by the General Assembly and Gov. Ralph Northam.
*Amended the State of Emergency Declaration to include disaster or dangerous conditions as part of the resolution, before unanimously approving the declaration.