Supervisors consider $22.5 million draft budget

The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors were presented with a draft of the county’s 2013-2014 budget at their monthly meeting Monday afternoon (April 1). Though no discussion on the matter ensued – that will come at the April 29 public hearing in the elementary school gym – the $22.54 million budget is about $742,000 more than last year’s $21.8 million budget.

If adopted as it is, the budget would bring an approximately 6-cent increase (per $100 of assessed value) in the county’s property tax rate – a rise of about $240 in the annual tax bill of a $400,000 property, for example. Each cent in the county’s now 61-cent rate represents about $155,000 in annual expenses.

This year’s draft, County Administrator John McCarthy’s 28th annual attempt to wrestle political and economic realities into a balanced budget, incorporates several major realities:

  1. a school board-adopted 2013-2014 budget of $12.6 million, a $446,000 increase over last year which includes funds for a 3-percent across-the-board salary increase for teachers and staff;
  2. a roughly $300,000 increase needed to cover the costs of the county’s implementation of the Comprehensive Services Act (CSA) for At-Risk Youth and Families programs, a federal-state program that includes foster care and other social services now being provided, the supervisors were told last month, to about twice as many children over the last 18 months as in the previous decade.
  3. a 2.75-percent state-mandated salary increase for constitutional officers (sheriff, treasurer, revenue commissioner and commonwealth’s attorney) and their staffs.

Outside of schools – the school division’s cost is 55.9 percent of the county’s budget – the CSA increase represents the single biggest line increase of the proposed budget. It raises the county’s annual share of the program’s expenses to $975,000.

The supervisors and school board were to hold a joint hearing on the school budget last night (Wednesday, April 3) at the high school.

The draft county budget includes an $85,000 decrease in funds previously reserved for “locality aid to the commonwealth” – essentially a 1-percent required return by local jurisdictions over the past few years to the state, meant to help Richmond balance the budget. (This year, due to increasing income and sales tax revenues associated with a recovering economy, McCarthy said, the state has balanced its budget without the financial “help” of its counties and cities.)

A new line item – an additional $42,000 added to the county administrator expenses for the salary of a new deputy to McCarthy – has been a subject of discussion among the supervisors since tourism consultant Laura Overstreet resigned in January. Tourism expenses, formerly close to $50,000 a year (including $30,000 compensation for Overstreet) are listed in the draft budget at $15,000.

Also in the budget is a contractual increase of $5,000 in County Attorney Peter Luke’s salary, making it $51,600, as is $29,000 reserved for legal services provided to the Department of Social Services (not by Luke’s firm), the latter figure more than double last year’s $12,000 expense.

State-mandated increases would bring constitutional officers salaries to: $74,217 for the treasurer (and $77,680 for the deputies); $135,753 for the commonwealth’s attorney (which is the statewide minimum for the position, based on a population of 30,000 or less); $74,217 for the commissioner of revenue ($72,881 for deputies); the clerks of the circuit court ($201,904, divided among the clerk and deputies); and the sheriff ($83,724).

The sheriff’s department was the subject of the few budget-related questions posed during the public comment period of the meeting, with Rock Mills resident David Konick questioning the need for so much money being allocated to the department. (The proposed sheriff/jail expenses for 2013-2014 are $2.25 million, only about a $2,000 increase over last year, McCarthy noting that the department’s expenses were kept down by the departure of half a dozen experienced, higher-paid officers last year, whose replacements are drawing salaries closer to entry level.)

“There are departments in this county . . . that are stocked with things we don’t need,” Konick said, adding that he remembered a time when deputies had to provide their own transportation. Konick said he remembered when former sheriff W.A. Buntin asked the supervisors for one car and they refused, saying it would just lead to increased requests in future years.

Konick said he didn’t believe there was any reason each deputy had to have his or her own car – each of which is stocked with radar, radios, etc., Konick added. “When was the last time all the cars in the department were all called to the same scene?”

Instead, Konick proposed that there should be enough vehicles to cover every deputy on duty in a given day, “with maybe two or three in reserve.”

Both Konick and Flint Hill resident Phil Irwin lobbied the supervisors to take down the new electronic sign in front of the high school, with Konick describing it as “an attractive nuisance.” Both men said they were worried that the sign was distracting, as it drew drivers’ attention off the road.

“That’s a bad place to get distracted,” Konick said. Irwin added that he believed the sign was specifically against the county’s ordinances and was concerned that it was a traffic hazard.

A full copy of the proposed budget can be found online at boarddocs.com/va/corva/Board.nsf/Public.

Miller barn approved

After being recommended for approval by the planning commission at their March 20 meeting, the supervisors unanimously approved Cliff Miller’s adaptive-use permit allowing him to use his family’s huge old dairy barn in Sperryville to host 15 events a year.

Some safety concerns had initially delayed approval by the planning commission, but after Miller made several adjustments to his life-safety plan – a plan specifically designed to ensure the safety of event-goers – the commission approved his request.

This photo was taken last summer of the inside of the Miller barn and its chandeliers. Photo by Roger Piantadosi.
This photo was taken last summer of the inside of the Miller barn and its chandeliers. Photo by Roger Piantadosi.

In particular, because of the age of the barn, the commission was concerned with the damage a fire could cause. To counteract that, Miller’s life-safety plan, which was designed by a professional architect and approved by building inspector Richie Burke, set the maximum occupancy at 261 people (including staff).

Miller also set aside a designated gathering point for guests, away from the barn, allowing emergency vehicles easy access, addressed handicap-accessibility issues, installed networked smoke detectors, agreed to a midnight curfew for events and agreed to staff at least two non-family-member fire safety marshals at every event.

“This was more than I expected,” Miller admitted to the board Monday, “but there’s no one more concerned with safety there than me.”

Both Piedmont supervisor Mike Biniek and Hampton supervisor S. Bryant Lee commended Miller for finding a creative new way to use the barn, noting that it would have been a shame if the structure had just gone to waste.

“It seems the planning commission looked at this very hard, very thoroughly, and I trust their recommendation,” added Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish.