‘Transition’ key word in BOS budget workshop

The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors held a budget workshop on April 13 at the library to approve a preliminary fiscal year 2018 budget. The board will present the budget for discussion and amendment in future public meetings.

“I want to make clear that our purpose today is to approve a budget for advertisement purposes,” said vice chair and Stonewall-Hawthorne district superintendent Chris Parrish at the start of the meeting. “That will give us plenty of time to advertise budget meetings twice in the paper and go ahead and take action in a timely manner.”

The board will present the draft at its regular meeting on May 1 at the courthouse. Additional public meetings will be held before the budget is expected to be adopted at the board’s June 5 meeting.

“Transition” seemed to be the word of the day, as the board discussed impending county employee changes and expenditures in technology upgrades.

Building office manager Richie Burke recently announced his retirement effective June 1 after 28 years on the job. In a more than 30-minute discussion with the board, Burke shared his opinions on how the board might approach his leaving and the transition of responsibilities to others. Besides running the county’s building office, Burke is also the county’s emergency 911 coordinator and emergency services coordinator.

One idea that has floated around the county in recent days is outsourcing the building office functions to a third-party contractor, as some neighboring counties do. Under that arrangement, the contractor would issue permits and conduct inspections. Fees for services would be payable directly to the contractor.

Although a cost savings to the county might be achieved by using a contractor, Burke warned of the downsides of going in that direction, such as the potential of losing a personal touch for citizens needing to interact with the building office.

“When people come into the office,” said Burke, “they expect to have a [person] to pose their questions to because everybody doesn’t understand the building code. I think most of your homeowners and builders would be happier having a face there even with an increase in the fees.”

Burke expressed concern that a third-party contractor, unfamiliar with the county, might miss violations.

“There are people who do things without permits,” he said, “but somebody has to see that, somebody has to send letters” stating the violation and demanding a work stoppage until permits are issued.

“I also get situations where a landlord and tenant have issues, and I have to investigate if it’s an unsafe structure. I don’t know how you’re going to do that with third parties.”

And the monies spent would go outside the county instead of helping employ local people, he said.

He recommended maintaining a full time building official and a part time inspector.

“In my opinion,” he said, “whichever road you go down, right or wrong, you’ll be the ones getting complaints when people can’t get their permits and aren’t happy with the system” if the building office functions are performed by a contractor.

Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier asked if it would be feasible to transfer the emergency 911 function to the sheriff’s office, as other localities have done.

Burke answered that that would assign the functions and tasks to a constitutional officer who could decide at any time to move the 911 dispatcher out.

“In Orange County ten years ago,” he said, “the new sheriff came in and said ‘Hey, I don’t want your dispatch. You’re out.’ Now they have a double dispatch because the new sheriff didn’t want them.”

When PIedmont district supervisor Mike Biniek suggested cutting the budget line item amount for office equipment, Burke warned that some of the computers and other equipment would need to be replaced soon.

“Right now the CAD computer needs to be replaced along with updating the software to tie in with new mapping geographical information system (GIS) coming in,” he said. “If you cut [the budget] too low you’re going to tie somebody’s hand. The technology keeps moving on and the equipment can be expensive to replace.”

He suggested leaving a cushion for emergencies and unexpected technology changes.

The county’s Director of Elections Kim McKiernan and electoral board official Denise Chandler also addressed the board about the election office’s need to replace the county’s voting equipment before the November primary.

“In this year’s budget, we have $54,000 allocated for new voting equipment, but this will probably be a once in 10, 15 years expenditure,” said Chandler.

Of the five companies approved by the state’s Department of General Services, Chandler said the office had selected the company whose machines were the best fit for the county.

Upon replacing the current touchscreen and paper ballot system, McKiernan told the board, the new machines would comply with American Disabilities Act requirements for accessibility and would also offer simultaneous optical scanning.

After reviewing several other areas of the budget, the board decided to recess the meeting and reconvene later in the day. This gave County Administrator Debbie Knick time to make adjustments and return with an updated budget.

The board reconvened at 3:00 the same day and approved the preliminary budget for advertising.

An unedited video of the complete Rappahannock Board of Supervisors 9 a. m. and 3 p. m. budget workshops on Thursday, March 14, can be found online at rappnews.com/video, or on the newspaper’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/RappNewsPlus


About Patty Hardee 277 Articles
Writer, consultant, actor, director, recovering stand-up comic, Patty covers the county’s courts and other topics of interest for Rappahannock News. She lives with her grape-growing husband Bill Freitag in Flint Hill.