In a budget work session scheduled months ago to assess staff and salary changes at the sheriff’s office after the county began housing its inmates at a new regional jail, the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors Monday afternoon were told the fiscal year 2014-2015 budget was on track — at least for now.
Though Sheriff Connie C. Smith was present in the nearly deserted courtroom for the public work session, County Administrator John McCarthy handled the presentation, which included explanations of:
• How Smith and McCarthy had met last week, with the sheriff agreeing not to fill two current deputy vacancies. A third slot likely to come open soon would also remain vacant, McCarthy said, all for at least the next six months. The move would put the sheriff’s projected expenses back in line with McCarthy’s original fiscal-year plan, which included a hoped-for savings of about $100,000 in local law-enforcement costs. “It’s not her optimal plan,” McCarthy said, “but I prevailed on her in hopes that we will do better next year.”
The savings were meant to help build up a general-fund surplus for next year, when the county begins paying its share of debt for the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail.
Smith and McCarthy also told the supervisors that a plan had also been put into effect to have at least two deputies on patrol into the early morning hours, when most arrests for impaired driving are made — and when, with RSW Jail in the picture, at least some of those arrests require deputies to make a trip to Front Royal with their prisoner.
• Why Richmond’s miscalculation of expected tax revenues (blamed mostly on reaction to a significant hike in the estate-tax rate) has already resulted in a 1 percent ($30 million) reduction in “state aid to localities,” which for Rappahannock translates to just over $34,000. But the reduction, which McCarthy described as “entirely doable,” might be followed by a much larger decrease — $156 million statewide — that, unlike the first, will definitely be applied to secondary education expenses.
• How Virginia Retirement System (VRS) investment returns this year, which are up significantly, might bring about a decrease in VRS rates paid by the county for its employees. The 2014-2015 budget allowed for a 2 percent salary increase for county employees but also anticipated the usual raise in VRS rates.
• How trends at the RSW Jail could mean the costs for debt service (which starts next July 1) and operations now through next year might be lower than expected. Rappahannock’s share of the inmate population is down from original estimates of 12-plus percent to 7.6 percent, he said, and there are likely agreements with three nearby jurisdictions to begin housing their prisoners Jan. 1, a not-unexpected revenue boost for the jail.
The county budgeted $375,000 for its share of operations costs at the RSW Jail, McCarthy said. Based on the current population, which has fewer Rappahannock inmates and more than expected from Shenandoah and Warren counties, the figure could be closer to $356,000.
Shared costs are based on a three-year rolling average of each county’s share of the prison population, which McCarthy said was now at 348. Smith said on Monday Rappahannock County had 20 prisoners at the jail.
“I know a lot of this depends on the state,” said Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish, “but if all of this goes well, we might be able to be level-funded for next year’s budget — no increase in the property tax rate?”
McCarthy’s answer: “Yes,” to which he added, “although I’m not yet clear on what the schools have planned for next year.”