By Michael Campbell, News Editor
PRINCE GEORGE – Last Tuesday, residents and supervisors alike were able to get their first look at County Administrator Percy Ashcraft’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, allowing them to digest exactly what the county proposes taxpayer dollars be spent on or not in Fiscal Year 2018.
During his 45-minute presentation, Ashcraft meticulously went through the $113.6 million budget, which is 1.5 percent higher than the budget adopted last year, showing where and how those funds will be spent, while demonstrating that the budget was balanced without resorting to tax increases for residents.
General fund expenditures are expected to increase by over $750,000 in the county administrator’s proposed budget, totaling $52.9 million in FY 2018. The largest portion of the general fund expenditures is the area of salary and benefits, which Ashcraft explained would see funding for two new positions in the county, one with Department of Social Services and another with the Office of Community Corrections to “meet a growing demand in cases” in the county.
Additionally, funding has been removed for the Project Management Specialist position within County Administration.
In terms of benefits for employees, particularly health insurance, Ashcraft said, while the county continues to work to determine the final cost, they are projecting a five percent increase in the county’s health insurance costs, totaling $89,000. The county administrator admitted that the increase is pretty low thanks, in part, to county staff signing on board to various health and productivity initiatives, helping to keep claims “reasonably low.”
He added that the proposed budget remains committed to keeping the employee/employer health insurance cost ratio at or better than 25/75 percent.
The second biggest part of the county’s general fund expenditures belongs to the county’s contribution to Prince George County Schools. In Ashcraft’s proposed budget, it provides full funding of the memorandum of understanding between the county and PGCS, totaling $15.8 million.
According to county documents, this memorandum of understanding, adopted by both the school board and board of supervisors in late 2005, “establishes a process for determining the level of general fund support to be provided to Prince George County School System by the County of Prince George for a given fiscal year based upon certain General Fund revenue sources and adjustments as deemed appropriate by both parties,” specifically for operating funds.
The amount funded through the MOU in the proposed budget, $15,813,565, is below the amount proposed in PGCS Superintendent Renee Williams’ budget presented in February, which seeks to ask the county for $16,063,792 in local funding.
When asked, Ashcraft said, in past years, the county has funded the school division above the amount provided in the MOU and that the school board can request additional funds and granting those funds would be up to the board of supervisors as part of the budget process.
Public safety continues to be a key investment of the county in Ashcraft’s proposed budget, including earmarking $10,000 for the creation of a Fire and EMS career development program that mirrors the program created by the county police department during this fiscal year.
Additionally, a new public radio system is planned for the county at a cost of $14.2 million, with $8.5 million of that ongoing project being funded through the issuance of debt in the proposed budget, and grant funding has been targeted for the construction of a new burn building in the county.
A notable reduction in Ashcraft’s proposed budget is another drop in funding for Riverside Regional Jail and Crater Youth Care. For Ashcraft, he said the drop has been a help to the county’s bottom line, with a $277,000 decrease planned in the proposed FY 2018 budget, and that the reduction comes as “[the county] is sending fewer people there.” Those dollars would be rolled back into the general fund.
In order to pay for these items, revenue needs to continue to flow into the county and, while general fund revenue is expected to rise, there are some decreases priced into Ashcraft’s proposal.
The county administrator expects an $450,000 increase in public service tax collections, along with another $100,000 increase in motor vehicle license collections and $90,000 increase in penalties and interest on delinquent tax collections.
Furthermore, thanks to beautification and enhancements along the Exit 45 corridor and continued efforts to expand tourism in the county, a $60,000 increase in local lodging taxes is expected, which would go straight into the General Fund.
On the other side, the county expects to see a $200,000 decrease in anticipated machinery and tools tax collections, along with the loss of one-time funding related to the sale of the former Carson Fire Station and proceeds from Dinwiddie County for the construction of the new fire station.
In the area of public utilities, Ashcraft noted that county water and wastewater customers would see an increase in their rates, specifically, a ten percent increase in water fees and 20 percent hike in wastewater fees, in an effort to “realign utility revenues to cover annual operating and capital expenses.” The increase is expected to generate over $731,000 in revenue for the public utilities department.
The proposed rate increase equates to a $2.24 per month increase for water and an $8.74 increase in sewer charges.
Ashcraft remarked that “About two-thirds of residential customers would actually see less than this $11 per month increase because they consume less than the average 5,000 gallons per month.”
In the proposed budget, funding for the public utilities department would increase by $1.4 million over the previous year in an effort to cover the cost of increased capital improvement expenditures. Additionally, $1.3 million is budgeted for projects related to the renewal of existing utility infrastructure, such as the Food Lion water system, meter replacements, and sewer pump station improvements.
Following the presentation, supervisors Alan Carmichael and Donald Hunter expressed his concern about a lack of employee raises discussed during the proposed budget, who asked if County Administration could find out how much a one-percent raise would cost the county.
“Our performance on these audits and other things we do don’t come by some fluke, it comes from the great administration, departments, and employees we have,” he said. “I know the first thing on our mind is no rate increases, but the demand on our employees is getting higher every day.”
“Our employees work hard here,” Hunter said of the county staff, “and we wouldn’t be where we are without them. We need to give them a little recognition for what they do.”
According to Ashcraft, employees in the county received a two-percent raise during the Fiscal Year 2017 budget, effective July 1, 2016.
The board is expected to discuss raises and a number of topics during a series of work sessions scheduled for Wednesday, Mar. 8, Monday, Mar. 20, and Wednesday, Apr. 5.
According to Ashcraft, a public hearing on the setting of tax and utility rates is slated to be scheduled for Tuesday, Apr. 11, with a public hearing on the overall budget slated for Tuesday, Apr. 25.
A copy of the county’s proposed budget is available at county offices and online at http://princegeorgeva.org.
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