County budget adopted for upcoming year

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: May 30, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.

PRINCE GEORGE – A months-long process for supervisors and county staff formally wrapped up last week as leaders formally adopted their budget for the upcoming year, which features no changes to the county’s tax levies but substantial increases in county expenses, such as Riverside Regional Jail contributions.

Last week, supervisors voted unanimously to approve the 2020 fiscal year budget following a series of work sessions, adjustments and subtractions over the course of the budget process as leaders worked to balance revenue with increases in some line items for the upcoming year, which begins on July 1. 

The action follows a quiet public hearing where residents were given a complete picture of the county’s financial plans for the upcoming year after supervisors formally adopted the tax rate for the upcoming year, which will remain unchanged from their current levels. In April, supervisors opted to adopt an effective tax rate of 86 cents per $100 of assessed value for the 2020 fiscal year.

According to Deputy County Administrator Betsy Drewry, the assessed values of property in the county “have grown by more than one percent,” excluding new construction and improvements. When that happens, state law, specifically Va. Code § 58.1-3321, requires that a locality “reduce its rate of levy for the forthcoming tax year so as to cause such rate of levy to produce no more than 101 percent of the previous year’s real property tax levies.”

Based on the county’s assessment data, Drewry stated the equalization rate for Prince George would be 83 cents, a three-cent drop over the now-adopted tax rate.

On July 1, if the board had not advertised and adopted an effective tax rate, the county’s real estate tax rate would have been automatically set to 83 cents per $100 of assessed value. Instead, the county moved forward with advertising and subsequently adopting an effective real estate tax rate of 86 cents per $100 of assessed value.

All other tax levies remain unchanged as well as mobile home tax rate will remain steady at 86 cents per $100 of assessed value, personal property will stay at $4.25 per $100 of assessed value, and machinery and tools taxes will be levied at a rate of $1.50 per $100 of assessed value.

While no one spoke during the public hearing on the FY2020 budget, residents did ask supervisors to all the tax rate to fall back to the equalized rate to reduce the burden on county residents.

“You can be happy and pat yourself on the back but the people here are paying more and more,” he said during his remarks to supervisors. “You have a duty to reduce this to 83 cents,” saying he is frustrated by the recent assessment that found his new home had grown in value by “$40,000 in less than five months”

“Sit back and lower the rate in this county so we don’t get taxed out of our houses,” Steele continued, saying he believes the level of services in the county doesn’t justify the county’s current rate, adding that Prince George should look to reduce its real estate tax rate to a level that is closer to their neighboring localities.

“Let’s put this back to reasonable and get back to where our neighbors are. 83 cents is reasonable and that is where we should be,” Steele closed.

In past conversations, Prince George County Administrator Percy Ashcraft has stated one cent of real estate tax revenue equals approximately $250,000 in revenue for the county, so had the rate dropped three cents from the effective tax rate to the equalized rate, the county could have potentially lost $750,000 in revenue, all while the county faces increased costs in several key line items, including funding for Riverside Regional Jail and Comprehensive Services Act spending.

The Prince George Board of Supervisors formally adopted their budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which features tax rates remaining at their current levels, increased funding for Riverside Regional Jail due to heightened costs, and pay increases for county workers. (Michael Campbell)

Those two items garnered much of the focus of county officials during the development of the county budget as they served to sap much of the extra revenue the county could have utilized for capital projects or other initiatives.

Looking at Riverside Regional Jail specifically, the budget factors in an increase to the jail’s per diem rates for inmate housing, rising from $40 to $43 as the jail faces a decline in population as, according to Ashcraft, a member of their governing body, member locality Chesterfield has scaled back the number of inmates they are sending to the jail to the tune of “approximately 200” inmates, which he said has “put a real strain on the jail’s ability to operate.”

That increased cost on member localities due to declining populations is paired with an increase in the number of inmates the county is sending to the jail as the county’s projected average daily population is estimated at 130, up nearly 40 inmates. Those factors combined resulted in an increase in RRJ spending of nearly $677,000.

The per diem and county prisoner population increase is also impacting the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30. According to Ashcraft, they are preparing for overspending during the remainder of the fiscal year as the county had only allocated $550,000 to that line item.

“That took away any discretionary money that we had to do some other things in this budget and I clearly say that in our message to the Board,” Ashcraft said in February. “That $676,886 represents just how much less money we had to do some of the things that we were hoping to do.”

The second factor playing a major role in the county’s budget is required spending as part of the state’s Comprehensive Services Act, which helps at-risk youth and families in Virginia’s communities. According to the state’s department of education, the aim for the Act is to “high quality, child-centered, family-focused, cost-effective, community-based services to high-risk youth and their families” by pooling several funding streams together to provide services to high-risk youth. Those funds are then “returned to the localities with a required state/ local match.”

According to county records, they are projecting expenditures to rise by over 54 percent during FY2020 from $1.2 million to $1.95 million, with the local match for that increase being $623,173.

The county plans to continue to absorb health insurance increases without passing those along to employees, with this year’s increase hovering just over nine percent, below the projected nearly 12 percent placeholder slotted into the budget in February prior to the true percentage increase being known.

The budget features spending focused on employee compensation through a pay increase for county staff. Utilizing nearly $400,000, those county employees who have a salary under $50,000 will receive a $1,000 pay increase. Those with salaries ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 would receive a two percent salary increase, while those making over $100,000 would get a $2,000 pay raise.

In April, Drewry noted the employees will receive the higher of that scaled pay increase or 25 percent of the second phase of the county’s salary study that addresses pay compression.

Part-time regular staff will receive half the pay increase that full-time employees will get this coming year.

In addition, the county plans to move paid fire and EMS employees to a similar pay plan the county’s sworn police officers were transitioned to last year and allowed for parts of county’s recent salary study to be implemented, with a focus on addressing pay compression for employees where there is little difference in pay or salary despite experience or skills.

Two new positions that had been proposed in the budget – a deputy sheriff and assistant commonwealth’s attorney – have been removed after the state compensation board did not provide funding for them as part of their budget. Drewry said those two positions will be will brought to the board during at the midpoint of the upcoming fiscal year in either December 2019 or January of 2020 for discussion and “after available resources are reviewed mid-year.”

In regards to school division funding, the county, utilizing the revised memorandum of understanding approved by the board in 2018, will be providing $16.6 million in local funding, up just over $141,000.

According to the county, the school budget’s growth is “attributable to increased Federal and State revenue projections, and use of fund balance for textbooks.”

Additionally, they note the school division’s budget as adopted by the school board is roughly $306,000 higher than what was proposed in the county administrator’s budget due to an increase in state dollars.

Along with a number of equipment and vehicle purchases, the county will begin payments on their Spring debt issuance during the coming fiscal year, which saw supervisors approve $9.45 million in new debt to pay for a number of capital projects, the highlight being funding for a replacement to the aging Jefferson Park Fire Station, addressing a longtime community concern.

This budget will also allow for the addition of two fire/EMS lieutenants at a cost of $166,000, which will be covered by revenue generated from now-adopted increases in medical transport and mileage rates.

According to county documents, effective July 1, the BLS rate for medical transport will rise from $450 to $525, ALS1 will increase by $100 to $600, and ALS2 will rise by $200 to $800. In addition, the mileage rate will increase from $8.25 per mile to $12 per mile.

With the budget’s adoption, the new financial year will begin on July 1 in the county and across the Commonwealth.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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