Few voices at county budget hearing

“Thirty-four minutes and 52 seconds,” said Circuit Court Clerk Peggy Ralph, after Board of Supervisors Chairman Roger Welch adjourned the public hearing for the 2011-12 Rappahannock County budget Monday evening (April 25) at Rappahannock County High School.

That is: A record may have been set for the shortest public hearing for the county budget, said Ralph, who records the minutes of the supervisors’ meetings.

The $11.69 million budget to operate Rappahannock County schools from 2011 to 2012 was the first topic of discussion before a crowd of fewer than a dozen people. The school’s budget — plus the $1.4 million from the county’s general fund that is being used to pay for energy improvement projects this year — comprises 65 percent of the $22.12 million county budget. This fact was pointed out later in the meeting by Sperryville resident Monira Rifaat and confirmed by County Administrator John McCarthy.

After the meeting, McCarthy said that the school budget varies from 58 to 65 percent of the overall county budget.

School Board Chairman Wes Mills, and board members Aline Johnson and Rosa Crocker, who represent the Piedmont and Wakefield Districts respectively, spoke in support of the budget.

Mills hit the high points. School staff will not receive a salary increase, however, the county will pay the 9.4 percent hike in health insurance premiums levied by Anthem Health Plans of Virginia, Inc. Major enhancements of the school’s and the county’s energy systems will commence in June at an anticipated cost of $1.4 to $1.6 million. Included in the budget, as supervisors negotiated with the school board a year ago, is an annual $150,000 loan repayment for the project.

McCarthy pointed out that this installment was raised “before anyone turned a single spade of dirt.” He said he cannot remember when money was allocated and funding was in hand before a project began. His hope is that savings in energy costs will help to fund future raises for school staff.

“You’re in hard times,” said Supervisor Bryant Lee, in praising the school board for keeping the budget level. The new budget is just a slight increase over the current year’s $11.5 million (due primarily to small expected increases in state and federal funds).

“It’s a little more realistic budget than before,” said Tom Junk. He and Rifaat were the only two members of the public who spoke at the hearing.

While Rifaat thanked the board for holding the line on taxes, she wondered about the future. From her personal conversations, she has noted that Rappahannock’s taxes are lower than that of adjacent counties.

“If you look into a crystal ball, John, how long can this last?” Rifaat asked McCarthy.

Supervisor Chris Parrish credited “weekenders” with significantly contributing to the county’s low tax levels. He observed that these part-time residents are assessed considerable taxes on what are often impressive homes, yet their usage of local government services is minimal.

But the number of students in Rappahannock’s schools continues to diminish, Junk said.

“If you don’t have a growing population, you’re dead,” said Junk.

Rifaat said that she tries to attend the budget hearing every year. She and Junk asked detailed questions and referenced budget line items in their suggestions.

The board of supervisors will vote on the school budget at their meeting Monday (May 2), McCarthy said.

About Alisa Booze Troetschel 30 Articles
By some folks' standards, Alisa Booze Troetschel is a newcomer. She moved to northwest Virginia two years ago after completing graduate studies at the Missouri School of Journalism. She has photographed, written and edited for local, regional and national magazines and newspapers, while delighting in the beauty surrounding her new home.