By Staff Reports
The county’s proposed nearly $67 million spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1 is more than $9.3 million, or nearly 17 percent, above the current year’s budget of $56,344,192.
The proposal also includes a nearly $900,000 deficit.
Patrick County Administrator Geri Hazelwood said the deficit is partly because “we’ve had people ask for more money. Outside agencies. Some recommended cuts, some maybe not.”
Hazelwood noted the more than $34 million request from the Patrick County School division, which includes an increase of $5.4 million, or 18.32 percent, and includes a local increase in funds of more than $1.3 million, or about 25 percent.
County funded school debt, interest and fees decreased by about 1.2 percent than the current year due to a combined decreased in interest and principal, budget documents showed. The current balance of school debt principal is $20,619,694.
Some residents recently expressed concerns during a public hearing on the proposal.
Kurt Bozenmayer was among those to address the board.
While he appreciated the cooperation and the board, county and school staff for answering his questions about the proposal, “I am concerned about some of the proposed cuts,” Bozenmayer said of:
* Patrick County Library – $30,782 or 11 percent.
* Volunteer fire agencies – $53,675 or 35 percent.
* Volunteer rescue squads – $46,450, or 48 percent.
* Patrick & Henry Community College (P&HCC) – $7,000 or 38 percent.
* Reynolds Homestead Arts Program – $9,000 or 100 percent.
“I would like to see each of these programs supported in a fair and equitable manner in terms of financial support,” Bozenmayer said, and noted that “several months ago, we saw the county’s portion of the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) get increased from $40,000 to $80,000 due to being quote, ‘out of compliance.’ Yet in the current budget proposal, the county take is reported as $200,000 out of the projected $500,000” revenues generated by the TOT.
Among other concerns are proposed “drastic cuts to certain programs and some salaries,” while others “are increased by 7 percent or 10 percent, or more, he said.
For instance, “the tourism budget is slated for a 6 percent cut. The EDA (Economic Development director, Sean Adkins) goes from” a $48,000 salary in 2021 “to $70,000-plus in 2023, a 45 percent increase,” Bozenmayer said. “This may be justified, but I would like it explained. No disrespect to Mr. Adkins intended.”
According to budget documents, a contribution of $127,000 is earmarked for the EDA. Additionally, a part-time clerical (administration assistant) position also was added to that office this year, with $7,952 spent on that position as of March 10, and $22,185 proposed for fiscal 22-23.
In addition to the increased cost of taxes, and associated benefits such as the retirement contribution, the cost of telephone service for the EDA is proposed to increase by 100 percent in the upcoming year, as is a hybrid disability premium. Dues and memberships increase by 117 percent, and internet domain hosting is 384 percent more than the current year, according to budget documents.
According to budget documents, the EMS coordinator’s salary will decrease by 13 percent; vehicle license reimbursement for members of volunteer fire departments and rescue squads will decrease by 100 percent due to an ordinance change, and the Capital Equipment Contribution for fire and rescue appears to include decreases $154,000 and a $76,000, respectively.
Bozenmayer said he supports the school budget as presented, and is “not specifically objecting to raises for either school or county employees. I have great appreciation for our school system, public safety system, sheriff’s office, fire and rescue systems, library and our tourism department.”
However, “if you cut allocations to one group the allocations to other groups should be comparable, unless you raise the tax rate to accommodate all our programs fairly. I hope that you will find a way to adequately fund all our programs,” Bozenmayer said.
In her comments to the board, Norma Bozenmayer said “cutting programs and services is not okay, in my opinion.” Additionally, “I was disappointed in receiving a response to our email (about cutting funds to the library), essentially blaming it on the schools.
“Blaming the schools for all the budget problems is not helpful,” Norma Bozenmayer said. “The schools didn’t cause the problems, the lack of funding did. Giving raises to some while cutting programs and salaries of others is also not okay, in my opinion. If a raise is warranted, then a funding source should be found to support that raise and not taking it from other programs.”
She added that “no one here will disagree that you have a very difficult job, and I personally respect all of you for caring enough to be up there. We’re all here because we love this county. We love its services. Please, let’s get creative and solve the funding problems without slashing services.”
Both Norma and Kurt Bozenmayer live in the Smith River District. They were among several to speak against a proposed decrease in funding to the local branch of the library.
Before the public comment period got underway, Clyde Deloach, board chairman and of the Blue Ridge District, said the board will support level funding for the library.
While the board did not address comments at the meeting, Deloach later said the pay hike for Adkins was “built in when we hired him. Another part is he really has done a good job. So, some of it is merit and some of it is because it was promised.”
Hazelwood said some changes have been made to the proposed budget – such as increasing the real estate tax, and the recent decision to restore level funding to the local library.
“We are still making changes,” she said, adding that additional hearings on the proposal have not been scheduled yet because many localities, including Patrick, are waiting on lawmakers to approve the state’s spending plan.
Finance director Lori Jones referred questions about specific cuts, increases and other changes to the county’s website at https://www.co.patrick.va.us/departments/finance.
A copy of the complete budget proposal can be reviewed in the county administration office, which is located in the Patrick County Veterans Memorial Building in Stuart.
(See additional story on page 3.)