BOS: budget battle ahead?

Rappahannock County’s Board of Supervisors appears headed into a battle over the county budget and school spending, as Virginia’s fiscal crisis deepens and one county supervisor calls for strict new limits on spending.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article first appeared on the writer's own Rappahannock blog/news site at www.rappvoice.com.

Jackson District Supervisor Ron Frazier fired the first shot in the looming battle last week with email messages to other supervisors sharply criticizing the Board of Supervisors for what he called past failures to adequately oversee spending and management of Rappahannock County public schools.

“If experience has shown the BOS anything, it is that we are negligent in our duties,” Frazier wrote in a message addressedto new Board Chairman Roger Welch, with copies to Piedmont District Supervisor Mike Biniek and County Administrator John McCarthy.
As Virginia legislators and its new governor face a $4 billion budget shortfall in the next two years, local governments are bracing for big reductions in state funding, which is likely to force controversial cuts in school programs or personnel, or county tax increases. The crisis will hit this spring when the General Assembly and Gov. Robert McDonnell finally settle on cuts to close the huge budget gap resulting from declining state tax revenues.

Frazier is proposing that the Board of Supervisors consider new policies that would strictly control the county’s budget, more than half of which goes to support Rappahannock schools.

Among those policies is a formula that would limit any increase in spending to no more than the rate of inflation plus the county population growth rate. Given that the current inflation rate is very low (it was a negative .4 percent in 2009) and population growth in Rappahannock County is close to nil, that would amount to virtually freezing the school budget and other county spending at current levels or less.

“We should have heeded these policies right here in Rappahannock County,” Frazier wrote. “We allowed the school budget to grow at times 50% more each year than the rate of inflation -– 4% inflation rate and the school budget at 6%. This was allowed several years in a row.

“Several times I brought it to the (board’s) attention that in Culpeper County the policy was not to allow the schools budget to grow faster than the rate of growth of the tax base, or capped at a percentage of that growth. All I got was a ‘that’s interesting’ from Pete (former Chairman Charles K. ‘Pete’ Estes) and absolutely no response from the rest of you guys,” Frazier wrote.

“The school budget and fire levy are considered ‘entitlement funds’ by the recipients. Indeed the previous school superintendent called the budget line items ‘fungible’, and they are when approved by bottom line. We need to study ways to be accountable to the public.”

Frazier continued, “If experience has shown the BOS anything it’s that we are negligent in our duties. Simply look at the disrepair the pneumatic controls were allowed to fall into,” referring to the failing system of heating and cooling controls in the schools. “We gave the schools the money to maintain the facilities,” said Frazier, who contends the school administration failed to maintain them properly.

“For years we (the BOS) were told by the school board that they would be reducing personnel through attrition and yet we found that there had been an increase of personnel by 10% while they had lost 15% of their enrollment in the same time period,” Frazier wrote. “And the school board and superintendent did not even know this till I asked for the information.”

The Jackson District supervisor cited a favorite quote defining insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” He said: “This is the Rappahannock County BOS.”

Frazier’s email was addressed also to the editors of the Rappahannock News and Rappvoice.com. In it, he formally requested that McCarthy place his proposals on the agenda for the February meeting of the Board of Supervisors. McCarthy agreed to do so in a reply that also advised supervisors against further discussing such issues via email to each other, in light of Virginia law that requires public business to be conducted at open meetings.

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About James P. Gannon 21 Articles
James P. Gannon is a retired journalist who lives near Flint Hill. In his newspaper career, he served as a reporter and bureau chief at The Wall Street Journal, as Editor of The Des Moines Register in Iowa, and as Washington Bureau Chief for the Detroit news and a columnist for the Gannett newspapers.