County will consider a finance committee

In response to a request by Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier earlier this month, Rappahannock County’s supervisors will consider at their Aug. 3 meeting the creation of a finance committee to analyze county expenses and plan for future annual budgets, starting with the fiscal-year 2017 budget that goes into effect next July 1.

County Administrator John McCarthy said the committee, which would likely include at least two supervisors, county treasurer Deborah Knick, himself or his deputy Debbie Keyser and possibly one or two other county staff members, would allow “a closer look” at the budget, something that Frazier, in particular, perennially insists he and his fellow board members have failed to achieve. (This year, for example, Frazier helped persuade the board to postpone its usual early-June budget approval until a work session later in the month, at which it shaved a cent off what had been a proposed 2-cent increase in the property tax rate.)

“The budget is getting to a point of sufficient complexity that it probably should be looked at more closely,” McCarthy said, noting that most of the county’s neighboring jurisdictions have some kind of in-house group or committee that analyzes and makes specific recommendations to the governing body that approves the budgets.

“The school board has a finance committee,” Frazier said. “The supervisors are always working in a sort of vacuum. And right now, our taxes are basically — between the tax rate and the reassessment that’s now going on — as high as they’ve ever been, and our debt, with the regional jail payments, is as high as it’s ever been.

“We’re planning for the future here, so I think it’s critical the board get some long-range forecasts on borrowing, taxes, budgetary concerns, that kind of thing,” Frazier said, noting that he agreed with fellow fiscal conservative Walter Longyear’s suggestion at the board’s July meeting, when the finance committee topic first arose, that any finance committee also include consultation with some of the county’s local finance and budgeting experts.

McCarthy had another sentiment on the idea of consultants: “My thought is that if you want to have something to say about the county’s expenses and budgeting, you should run for supervisor first.”

“People have this sense that there’s some kind of magic that goes on in the creation [of an annual budget, a task that McCarthy himself has performed for some 30 years],” McCarthy said. “Well, it’s not magic. It’s actually boring and quotidian.”

McCarthy said the creation of a finance committee might also be an opportunity to take up a recent recommendation by JLN Associates, the consultant hired last year to analyze the county’s fire and rescue systems and services, that the county’s volunteer fire and rescue companies be more involved in the budget process — and that the process be standardized.

Right now, he said, requests for annual funding from the county’s fire levy fund are made in four or five broad categories — operations being the largest, followed by equipment costs. He said it might be a good idea to get the companies — and the county fire and rescue association, the body that decides on final allocations before presenting annual requests to the supervisors — up to speed on line-item budgeting and use of a budgeting process similar to that of the county administration.

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