Supervisors adopt $21.99 million budget, ponder state action; Miller course irrigation limit reduced by 25%
Facing a full agenda and a not-so-full courthouse, the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors met Monday (June 2) for about two hours in the afternoon and less than an hour in the evening, during which the board:
• adopted the county’s $21.99 million fiscal-year 2015 budget and 4-cent increase in the local property tax rate — with a hedge related to state legislators’ unwillingness to agree on a state budget, a stalemate that could mean a shutdown and a gap in state funding starting July 1;
• approved, as the planning commission recommended, Cliff Miller IV’s plan to build a nine-hole, par-3 golf course next to his Sperryville Schoolhouse property — but with a 25-percent decrease in the 10,000-gallon daily irrigation limit the commission recommended;
• declined, after a brief discussion, to pass an ordinance that would hold owners responsible for their incessantly barking dogs;
• agreed to waive the fees now charged (some now as much as $15 per item) for discarded electronic equipment dropped off at the Amissville landfill, thanks to a new recycling vendor whose payment schedule allows the county to break even on the cost of the service.
The supervisors also received a monthly treasurer’s report, apparently for the first time since the county switched to a new software system for tracking accounts and tax assessments last year, from new county treasurer Debra Knick.
Knick — though no one mentioned this at the supervisors’ meeting — has to run for election this November to the appointed post she assumed in April upon the retirement of Frances Foster, who served as county treasurer for more than a half-century.
Foster’s term expires at the end of 2015, so Knick has to run both this November and in 2015 if she wants to keep the position — which she does, as she reaffirmed by phone later Monday. “I’m up for it,” she said. (In a separate, non-trial-balance report to the supervisors, she detailed efforts to streamline the office operations and upgrade payment options for taxpayers, including the ability, in many cases, to pay tax bills online and by phone with a credit card.)
County attorney Peter Luke said a circuit court judge overruled his earlier determination that the next “general election” — in which an appointed constitutional officer must run — was not until November 2015 (when all the county’s constitutional officers’ terms expire). Though no local offices are up for election this November, there is a federal election — which the judge, Luke said, determined counts as a “general election.”
Thus the local ballot in November will include candidates for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives . . . and county treasurer.
Before adopting the county’s $21.99 million 2015 budget and a 4-cent increase in the local property tax rate (to 69 cents per $100 of assessed value), the supervisors had a brief discussion among themselves. (Public hearings, sparsely populated, finished up last month.)
Some of their talk centered around whether legislators in Richmond will manage to compromise on their partisan differences before the fiscal year ends June 30. Republicans in the House want to postpone the state’s participation in the federal Affordable Care Act; Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the Democrat-controlled Senate want to receive the $5 million-a-day federal subsidy now, and the Senate passed its own version of the budget that expands Medicaid to cover up to 400,000 Virginians.
County administrator John McCarthy predicted the legislators won’t compromise until “the 59th minute of the 11th hour” — and then only because Wall Street will have weighed in with threats to to downgrade the state’s bond ratings.
Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier first suggested the board postpone its vote and schedule a work session later this month to amend the budget based on the state’s action — predicting that a recently disclosed $350 million-plus annual shortfall (for each of the biennial state budget’s two years) would mean more state funding cuts would trickle down to county and local governments.
“We really don’t know where we are,” Frazier said. “And we really haven’t had a work session where we figure out how to cut $140,000, or two cents out of the tax rate, which is what I think we really need to do.”
The board made cuts amounting to less than $20,000 at its last work session.
At least half the increase in the tax rate, McCarthy has said, is meant to rebuild a surplus depleted by social services and other costs since 2010. The move is essentially a bet that the sheriff’s office’s transition from a local jail to a regional jail will cost less than what’s budgeted, and that the jail’s capacity for a significant out-of-the-area, paid-for inmate population will significantly reduce the county’s share of the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail’s operating costs within a year of its opening July 1.
Other drivers of the tax rate increase include a general real estate reassessment that must be completed by 2016; an increase in Virginia Retirement Service costs; increases in county employee health insurance rates and a 2-percent salary increase in December; a fire-and-rescue needs-assessment study to be performed by a third party this year; and the addition of a deputy county administrator post, starting halfway through the fiscal year on Jan. 1, 2015.
“We can either act now [to reduce the budget] or reduce the numbers later with an amendment,” Frazier said.
“That seems to be the case either way,” said board chair Roger Welch.
Luke noted that if the supervisors are contemplating a reduction in appropriations based on the state budget, no public hearing or similar process is necessary. Hearings would be required if the budget were to increase, he said.
Frazier’s plea that the supervisors schedule another work session was put into the form of a motion, but the motion included passage of the budget and tax rate change. Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish, who repeated that “the hope is still that the jail will work out and allow us to have our reserve built back up, and further tax increases won’t be necessary,” seconded the motion.
“Maybe we could even make a 2-cent tax cut next year,” said Welch.
Frazier was the sole no vote on the motion, and then offered another motion that the work session be scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, June 23. It passed unanimously.
McCarthy said later he doesn’t think the state will have worked out its budget stalemate by then, but the date was already reserved for the supervisors to meet to approve the county’s annual end-of-year payout (when bills accrued to the current fiscal year are paid).
The board also unanimously approved a measure to allow up to $3 million in short-term borrowing, to cover the gap between new fiscal year expenses and tax revenue collection. (The county had to briefly borrow $2 million last year to cover that gap; McCarthy said the treasurer’s report confirmed that account balances were roughly in the same position they were last year at this time.)
At their evening meeting, the supervisors unanimously approved the planning commission-recommended permit to allow Cliff Miller IV to build a nine-hole golf course — the county’s first golf course — between U.S. 211 and Water Street in Sperryville, adjacent to the Sperryville Schoolhouse complex he owns.
Parrish, saying he thought “the board should be doing something to protect the homeowners in Sperryville in case of drought, which is something we’ve gone through periodically in the past,” suggested the 10,000-gallon limit suggested by the commissioners — one of a handful of conditions added to the permit approval — was “excessive.”
Using the figures Miller presented — and which Miller said he’d gotten “the best people available to assess the state of the water table and wells” in the neighborhood, at the planners’ request — Parrish said 7,500 gallons seemed high enough to cover Millers’ planned 3-plus hours of greens irrigation per day.
Miller said he thought the less-than-10,000-gallon limit was “patently unfair,” and for a property of this size, was far less than agricultural users could pump by right, “without a permit.”
Miller had said earlier, in answer to a supervisor’s question, that he planned to open the course this summer. After the vote, he appeared visibly agitated, and said, in answer to another question about an opening date, “We’ll have to see.”
He and Parrish were observed having a brief private stand-up talk after the adjournment of the evening session (during which the board also approved a permit for Bill Taylor to build a second home on his 80-acre tract in Sperryville).
No one rose to speak during the public hearing for the golf course action. School board member and Sperryville resident Aline Johnson, unable to come to the evening meeting, stood to speak in favor of the golf course at the afternoon session. “Golfing is a good, clean sport, and a good business,” she said, adding that she hoped the course might also help revive the long-dormant team sport at Rappahannock County High School. “It won’t be much business revenue to start off with,” she said, “but we’ve got to start somewhere.”
After a presentation by Peter Luke, who had (at the board’s request) researched noise and nuisance ordinances around the state, the board decided not to act on an Amissville resident’s recent request — and other requests over the years, according to McCarthy — that the county pass such a measure.
Luke had offered to draft the ordinance, pointing out that the more specific the terms of the law were, the less likely they’d be struck down by the courts (as similar noise ordinances had in recent years across the state). He also pointed out that “sometimes, you want a dog to bark,” and that animal neglect — often the cause of incessant barking — was already against the law, and enforced by the sheriff’s office.
The supervisors tabled the measure indefinitely.
The board approved McCarthy’s recommendation that fees for electronics recycling — available at the Amissville landfill and recycling center — be waived indefinitely, as the county recently had found “a place where their payments are sufficient to offset the costs of transporting the goods.”
McCarthy reported that the year-long effort to move to “single-stream recycling” — where all recycling goes into a single container to be sorted later — was “still in the works.”
The board ratified the Board of Zoning Adjustment’s reappointment of Alex Sharp as its representative to the planning commission; reappointed Keir Whitson and Richard Lessard to terms on the Rappahannock County Water & Sewer Authority, Jennifer Fitzhugh to the Recreational Facilities Authority, Gary Settle to the planning commission and Phil Irwin and Bryant Lee to the Farmland Protection Committee.