Not everyone supported this year’s budget. That includes Piedmont district supervisor Ron Frazier, who voted against Hampton district supervisor Bryant Lee’s motion to approve the 2013 fiscal year county budget.
The full $21,785,350 budget was approved by the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors Monday (June 4) afternoon, by a 4-1 margin.
For county property owners, the supervisors essentially approved a 3-cent increase in the real estate tax (which went from 58 cents per $100 of assessed value to 61 cents). County Administrator John McCarthy reminded the board and those in attendance Monday that the tax increase had been advertised at 5 cents, but with the school budget reduction (a proposed $560,000 budget increase was cut in half to $280,000) approved by the supervisors, that tax increase was reduced by 2 cents.
McCarthy said that the major budget drivers this year involved increased costs related to child social-services demands, state-mandated salary increases and an obligation for county employees to contribute 5 percent to their retirement funds, and supplements to constitutional officers who are paid significantly less than in neighboring counties.
“The state mandates that all county employees have to start contributing to their own retirement. So the county decided to counteract that increase by giving a 5-percent salary increase on top of a 3-percent across-the-board salary increase to county employees,” McCarthy said. “Employees will pay Social Security taxes on the increased salary. So essentially, county employees are getting a 2.4 percent raise, and the constitutional officers are getting a $10,000 increase on top of that.”
Lee’s motion to adopt the budget followed a long silence, when a motion by Frazier to adopt the budget – minus $50,000 allocated for constitutional officer salary supplements – failed to find a second.
“Mr. Chairman, in the work sessions, I don’t think we worked out some of the money issues that I raised,” Frazier said, adding that he does not support the salary supplements for constitutional officers, and that there should be reductions to the funding of the Rappahannock Animal Welfare League (RAWL), a no-kill animal shelter he says brings abandoned animals from around the region to the county (and into county government-subsidized care).
“The schools have not been spared. I really think that we need to work down on the county side of the budget. I think we can do it. We just haven’t spent enough time on it . . . We’re all here now, we have the time. And after today, we can’t do anything about it.”
As he did at a similar session almost exactly a year ago, Frazier put the other supervisors to work defending the proposed budget.
“All of our constitutional officers are compensated on the basis of our population being less than 10,000, and the only other counties with comparable populations are in southwestern Virginia, where the cost of living is not nearly as high,” McCarthy said, noting that the Commonwealth’s Attorney position is already supplemented. “My fear is that paying the constitutional officers too little might prevent qualified officers from getting a job here.”
County Attorney Peter Luke addressed recent increases in social-services costs.
“We have 24 children in foster care right now, which is an all-time record in Rappahannock County,” Luke said, citing that in years past, the average number of foster cases at any time in the county has remained at about 10. He noted that some of these foster children will be in the system for at least another 10 years, until adulthood. “Drug and alcohol issues are invariably underlying issues with many of these families, substance abuse issues . . . Not only is [this increase] mandated, but it’s the right thing to do – and these kids don’t have anyone else to help them.”
McCarthy added: “This is not a ‘this year’ problem. This [demand for social-services funding] is a trend, and these numbers are not likely going to be dropping by much in the foreseeable future.”
Expenses related to the Comprehensive Services Act, which is a state-mandated program that provides aid to children through the Department of Social Services, have increased from $559,100 last year to $660,700 this year. The total cost for expenses under “health and welfare” in the county has also increased from $1.54 million to $1.78 million, an increase led by the rise in welfare and foster care cases.
The money to cover the recent spike of social-services expenses had been drawn for the last two years from the general surplus fund, McCarthy said, which is supposed to cover unforeseen expenses, such as a broken roof on the school or a lawsuit against the county. Lee agreed, saying: “This social services problem is not going away, and we can’t keep going into the general fund, because when problems arise, there won’t be any money left.”
While 57 cents of the real estate tax goes to the general fund (which contains $17.7 million), 4 percent of the tax goes to the fire levy. This is money set aside for emergency services. Years ago the county partnered with Culpeper and Fauquier counties to place Rappahannock’s antennas onto their towers, an attempt to solve long-standing radio coverage issues.
“Our pager coverage is insufficient, and our pagers in service are archaic,” McCarthy said. “And the problem is, our equipment manufacturer, Motorola, isn’t making new parts to those pagers anymore. We’ve been using other agencies’ castaways. So we’ve accumulated $375,000 for spending on whatever we decide to do with our pager system.”
After about 20 minutes of responding to remarks from Frazier about different areas to cut funding in the county budget, there was visible frustration on the part of the other board members.
“It’s just the problem that we have our own personal opinions and our own pet peeves,” Parrish said, addressing Frazier’s opposition to funding RAWL and providing constitutional officers with salary supplements. Parrish conceded that he personally doesn’t support spending more than $50,000 a year on tourism-related advertising because he’s not convinced that the county gets that money back. “I’m also opposed to the wineries . . . I don’t see why we encourage people to come out here, get half-shot and then get back on the roads. But those are just my personal quirks – and they don’t fit into this budget.
“Our goal was to reduce the tax burden on our citizens from 5 cents to 3 cents per 100, and we’ve done that,” Parrish said. “And we should be happy with that.”
In a roll-call vote, the three motions necessary for the adoption of the budget were approved by 4-1 margins, with Frazier the lone dissenter on each.
For fiscal-year 2013, which begins July 1, the county’s constitutional officer salaries, with supplements will be: commissioner of the revenue, $72,037 (was 60,821); treasurer: $72,037 (was 60,821); clerk of the circuit court, $196,500 (was $176,000, and the total is divided among clerk Peggy Ralph and two deputy clerks; Sheriff, $81,482 (was $66,094).
Other salaries: county administrator: $151,265 (was $135,000); commonwealth’s attorney, $128,253 (was 118,589); county attorney, $45,932 (was $40,000).