• Salary increases for teachers, county employees
• County admin’s proposal to Supervisors: A ‘very lean’ FY 2020 budget
What a difference a year makes for Rappahannock County Administrator Garrey W. Curry, Jr.
The minute he arrived Jan. 3, 2018 from Gloucester County to fill the vacant post of Rappahannock administrative manager he was confronted with a looming deadline: kneading together, line by line, a county budget to be presented to the Board of Supervisors and general public in about two months’ time.
And he wasn’t going to do it the easy way.
In prior years, the budget process in Rappahannock County consisted of each department head presenting individual budget requests to the BOS, who would then go through the usual process of comparing those requests to previous years, weighing current and future needs, proposing a budget, calling for public hearings, finalizing the numbers, then voting to adopt.
Curry’s first step last year was to inform the county budget holders that the administrator — not the supervisors — would be receiving their annual requests, and when March rolled around he would present a “balanced” budget to the Board. At which point the BOS could tweak it any way they liked.
“This time last year I was here seventy days,” Curry recalled during an interview in his office Tuesday. “I’ve had a little more time this time to dig into the weeds and really explore all areas of the budget, whereas last time it wasn’t possible. Now I’ve had a year and seventy days.”
And talk about looking “under every rock, and then [using] a shovel,” as Curry described crafting and drafting the administrator’s “very lean” FY20 budget, which he is scheduled to present tonight (Wednesday) to the supervisors.
Curry, an exhaustive numbers cruncher, said for this year’s budget process he took a “deep dive into FY17/18/19 actuals for every budget line,” to the extent that the new detailed 2020 budget sheet reflects “requested” and “proposed” budgeted amounts for every expenditure line item, each of which “has its own story.”
“I’m sure we’ll hear about it,” Curry told the News. “There are budget holders who are not happy with me. Particularly some of the constitutional officers who answer to the citizens, and they’re elected! A lot of the budget holders aren’t used to somebody asking them tough questions. And it’s not to say they are doing anything wrong, it’s just to make sure that with their expenses included in the budget there is a very clear rationale of why it’s there.
“What I attempted to do with this budget as much as possible is eliminate funding for items that ‘may be needed.’ And instead of including the items that ‘may be needed’ in all of the different budgets the BOS contingency fund [could be tapped into]. We can eliminate a whole lot of ‘may be needed’ because they’re not going to all be needed, we know that.”
As a result, Curry’s FY20 budget now in the laps of supervisors recommends “no tax increase.” But to give the BOS some leeway he suggested “higher rates be advertised for the public hearing to provide the Board with options.”
Still, even with no proposed tax increase, the administrator’s budget would provide a 3 percent cost of living allowance increase to county employees, a minimum 3 percent salary increase to RCPS teachers, and 100 percent operational funding to the county’s seven fire and rescue companies and Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.
Rappahannock School Superintendent Shannon Grimsley’s proposed budget includes a 4 percent salary increase and requests a $131,342 increase from the county’s general fund. Curry’s budget provides a $56,342 increase, or $75,000 less than requested, which is the value of a 1 percent salary increase.
The administrator’s budget, at the same time, covers a 4 percent health insurance premium increase for county employees (excluding county schools, which saw no increase this year on its policy).
“Insurance premiums went up 4 percent this year. That’s a $33,000 dollar hit for us,” Curry noted, pointing out that employees who insure only themselves on the county’s Local Choice plan see their policies fully funded by the county at $731 per month. “That’s a big benefit.”
Meanwhile, while digging into prior years’ budgets, Curry discovered that the county’s juvenile detention payments to Loudoun County were “really misbudgeted. I actually found out we are owed a credit for FY19, so we’ve got that coming to us . . . and closed the loop on that.”
Better yet, both the juvenile detention cost and regional jail share cost to Rappahannock taxpayers has decreased $42,000 and $51,000 respectively over the past year.
“Jail cost is based on a percentage used by our county,” Curry said. “Think of it in these terms: Rappahhannock’s not really growing, Shenandoah and Warren counties are. Their accounts are going up, ours are staying about the same. That means our percentage gets lower and lower as time goes by, and we like that.”
As for Social Services, where there’s been a “significant employee turnover” over the last two years, the administrator said “revenue is very, very complicated.” His budget allows for a net increase of $79,000.
He spoke of a new link program “to try to get a handle on the foster situation as it’s connected to substance use. We think by proactively investing in this program we can significantly reduce foster care side costs, which is very expensive, and overall reduce our expenses.”
The county’s Electoral Board, at the same time, requested a $32,852 salary increase for the registrar and assistant registrar (the current supplement, Curry noted, is 16th highest in the state, and were the funding request to be included in the FY20 budget the salaries would be the 2nd largest in the state).
“My budget does not provide that,” he said. “It does provide for a 6 percent salary increase for that department instead of 3 percent because the General Assembly included that in their budget.”
The Sheriff’s office requested two new vehicles be purchased in FY20 (up from one in each of 2018 and 2019), with an overall budget request of $2,114,209. Curry proposes providing $1,952,951.
Bottom line, Curry’s overall budget for FY20 totals $26,093,531, more than a half-million fewer dollars than county budget holders requested. The amount is also lower than the amended FY19 county budget of $26,756,023.
“Just because FY20 is less than FY19, that doesn’t mean something got cut,” he stressed, pointing out that “one-time expenses that were in the FY19 budget are not in there for FY20.”
Also new this year: creating a Capital Fund, with the aim for the Board to adopt a ‘Fund Balance’ policy that allows a capital fund balance to accrue in the future if there are unspent funds at the end of the fiscal year. In addition, Curry is seeing to the creation of a new Debt Service Fund to align with auditor action.
All said and done, when it comes to budgeting a county, Rappahannock is atypical.
“Seventy-one percent of our revenue is coming from real estate and personal property taxes. That is a huge percentage,” Curry noted. “Localities with more commercial activity have a much smaller percentage of general property. This is the model Rappahannock has chosen to use, and it’s not wrong, it’s just what it is — the model of, ‘We’re OK with going to our neighboring localities to go grocery shopping and things like that.’ There’s the consequence of traveling [such distances] but there’s the consequence of going outside and taking a look [at the viewshed], right? There’s pros and cons.
“This is a starting point for the Board of Supervisors.”