Citizen input encouraged at Monday’s public hearings on FY19 budget
County administrator introduces new budget process for Rappahannock
The very first day that Rappahannock County Administrator Garrey W. Curry Jr., arrived from Gloucester County to fill his vacant post he faced a looming deadline.
Then again, the timing — Jan. 3, 2018 — could not have been more ideal to immerse himself into a crash course on Rappahannock County government. It was the beginning of the annual budget process, and Curry knew from experience that there’s no better way to understand the nuts and bolts of a county than budget line by budget line.
And now he wants the public to understand the county’s budget process, particularly considering that the proposed FY 19 budget includes a tax increase partly to support salary increases for Rappahannock teachers and county government staff.
“In Gloucester, I sat on the county administrator’s [four man] budget team, and together we . . . kneaded together a budget to share [with the public]. And now a very similar process is being done here,” Curry explained during an interview in his Library Road office in the county seat of Washington. His team here, he said, included Human Resources & Special Projects Director Lauren May and Treasurer Debbie Knick.
In prior years, the budget process in Rappahannock County consisted of each department head presenting individual budget requests to the board of supervisors, who would then go through the usual process of comparing the requests to previous years, weighing current and future needs, proposing a budget, calling for mandatory public hearings, finalizing the budget, then voting to adopt.
“My proposal to the board was to follow the process we used in Gloucester,” Curry said, referring to his former home in Tidewater Virginia, where the county budget is four times as large as Rappahannock.
“The first step was to have me [and not the supervisors] receive all the budget requests, look at them and compare them to past budget [allocations] and expenditures, and then have me present a ‘balanced’ budget . . . set that baseline and allow the board to look at that and see how it could be tweaked,” he said.
On March 14, after being on the job barely two months, Curry presented the supervisors with its first ever “County Administrator’s Proposed Budget for fiscal year 2019.”
“Literally . . . it was a pretty tough task but 70 days in and here we are,” he told the board.
“I delivered a budget that didn’t require any tax increase, but it would require some cuts,” he explained, stressing again that a main purpose of his plan was to be “a starting point for the board to look at to come up with their proposed budget.”
Since then, the supervisors took the administrator’s balanced budget, which contained no county staff salary increases, and tweaked it into their own less-balanced proposal: a budget worth $34,746,061, which reflects an increase of $1,180,548 over the originally adopted FY18 budget of $33,565,513. The budget includes $565,000 in one-time expenses (or allocations for contingent one-time costs) so over half of the increase is from the fund balance (savings account) for needed projects and not local government expense growth.
In a nutshell, here’s what the supervisors were facing in drafting their budget: a 2 percent salary increase for county teachers and county staff; full 100 percent funding of the recent fire and rescue agreement; an increase in the Virginia Retirement System from 11.27 percent to 15.15 percent; a health insurance premium increase of 5 percent; state and federal school revenue decreasing $149,000 in the coming year; the regional jail cost projecting to increase $60,000; while the Social Services and the Children’s Services Act functions will see an expense increase of $486,000.
And while there is some linked revenue increase, the answer is yes, the FY19 budget does require a tax increase — the first time the tax rate has changed in Rappahannock since FY14 to FY15, which was a reassessment year.
While there is some room for “adjustment,” proposed tax levies on real estate and mobile homes in the coming year would realize an increase of 2 cents to 67 cents per $100 of assessed valuation; there would be another 1-cent increase on real estate (fire levy) to total 6 cents per $100; and tangible personal property (fire levy) would jump 10 cents to 30 cents per $100.
Of the proposed salary increases, Curry noted that a “2 percent school increase, 2 percent county increase [are] relatively small in the grand scheme of things because of the small number of employees.”
Then again, Curry realizes that in the eyes of the public any tax increase “is significant.”
“The most important thing we can do,” Curry told this newspaper, “is have people understand where we are now in the process — and what is the process. We’re getting to the end of the road and people need to understand that they have a role.”
To that end, he hopes for a full house at the Rappahannock Elementary School gym/auditorium this coming Monday, April 23, at 7 p.m., when the supervisors will hold not one, but two back-to-back public hearings: one on the proposed tax levies for calendar year 2018, the other on the proposed BOS budget for FY19 (July 1, 2018-June 30, 2019).
“The public has the opportunity through these two public hearings to let the board know what they want. If they think the cost of living increase is appropriate for the schools to keep the best and brightest teachers,” he said, “then they will speak to that and it will all come out in the wash. The board will figure out what to adopt as a budget and what tax rates are needed to support it.”
Of course, with any budget there’s much more to consider: school and fire funds, to maintenance and general funds, the list goes on. Add to this year’s mix the still unknown outcome of an unfinished Virginia General Assembly session as it pertains to the coming year’s funding for Rappahannock.
“All this [FY19 budget process] is somewhat hanging on what comes out of the General Assembly,” Curry pointed out. “The reconvened [Richmond] session will be coming up, and hopefully the two bodies will figure out what they can agree on, can’t agree on, and the governor can sign a budget.
“And things may have to change a little bit after that, and hopefully we will receive additional revenue from the state through some of those actions. And in that case we’ll adjust what we do before we adopt our budget after the public hearing.”
Further down the road there is “Capital Planning” to consider, Curry stressed, which never comes cheap. Most urgent are county building renovation needs, future county office space, and school improvements.
Curry said ideally the projects would be listed in a five year window, and the county and public would then decide what tasks should be tackled sooner, later, or not at all.