6.5-percent increase in budget: done

After working quickly through a final round of $158,747 in cuts, the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors approved a $22.24 million budget for 2013-2014 at their monthly meeting Monday afternoon (June 3).

County property owners will see a 4-cent increase in the real estate tax rate for fiscal year 2014, which starts this July 1. This year’s tax rate is 61 cents; with the budget now finalized, that rate will jump to 65 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Half of that 6.5-percent increase in the county budget is for the local share of the school budget (which includes 3-percent raises for staff), and half for increases in the county’s own budget (costs mostly driven by sharply rising demands for social services).

Among the cuts approved by the supervisors Monday was a $16,500 proposed expenditure to support operations at the private cat shelter to be opened in Flint Hill by the RappCats organization, a previously contentious notion that saw no further objections Monday, either from the supervisors or the audience.

Other cuts included a $42,000 salary for a deputy county administrator, a request long discussed but included for the first time ever this year by County Administrator John McCarthy in his budget draft (with funds largely appropriated from the now-gone tourism consultant position); funds for an emergency generator for the county and a combined $45,000 from the budgets of the treasurer and revenue commissioner’s offices.

That $45,000 was originally budgeted to cover the costs of developing the county’s tax forms in-house with the new cloud-based system both offices recently purchased – and which goes live June 1, two months before taxes are due – and paying RHD Financial Systems to develop the county’s tax forms as a backup plan if problems arose.

Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish made a motion to cut the remaining $50,000 from the emergency generator fund (the board had earlier approved cutting $35,000 of the proposed generator line item), instead securing that money in the county’s general reserve fund, to be used as needed.

Parrish pointed out that neither of the Rappahannock schools are wired to accommodate the generator, and the county currently has no way to move the generator from site to site.

“[The money] would be still be there in case of an emergency,” Parrish said. “I’m afraid if we leave it in there, we’re going to feel obligated later to purchase a generator . . . I can’t think of a scenario where we’d need one.”

Parrish’s motion was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Hampton district supervisor S. Bryant Lee voting against the motion.

Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier strongly advised the other supervisors to consider ways to trim the budget further, going so far as to suggest the salary supplements for constitutional officers be cut completely (a motion that failed, 4-1).

“It seems like anytime there’s a proposed budget increase, we go ahead and grant it,” Frazier said. “And year after year we stay that path.”

Frazier suggested the board be more proactive this fiscal year in lobbying the county’s representatives in the General Assembly in Richmond, advising them of the situation and “how unfairly they’re treating us.”

Frazier pointed out that Rappahannock receives the least amount of federal funding of any county in Virginia, and has recently lost a number of employees to neighboring counties who can afford to pay more. Frazier suggested that the board implore the General Assembly to supplement county employees’ salaries with federal funds, easing the burden on Rappahannock taxpayers and (ideally) allowing the county to keep more qualified employees longer.

All the supervisors agreed with Frazier’s sentiments, with McCarthy agreeing to draw up some proposals for how best to approach the assembly.

“We’re behind the eight ball here and we always will be,” lamented chairman Roger Welch.

The supervisors also agreed to an official time and date for a dedication ceremony for the Charles K. “Pete” Estes Memorial bridge, which will take place at 11 a.m. Friday, June 21. Back in August, 2012, the board voted unanimously to support a motion naming the new U.S. 522 bridge in Sperryville after Estes, a local resident and longtime board member.

Estes – who passed away while in office – spent more than 50 years serving the county in various roles, from sheriff to supervisors’ chairman. The motion was approved by the Virginia General Assembly, which will likely send several members to Rappahannock for the dedication.