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County budget proposal would level funds
Equalization would make up for reassessment loss

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Henry County’s $115,656,057 proposed budget for fiscal 2014 includes pay raises for county employees, adds positions, provides level funding — but less than requested — to the school division and “equalizes revenues.”

Equalizing revenues means raising the real estate tax rate to generate enough money to offset the loss of county revenue due to the drop in real estate assessments. The county’s estimated 5 percent drop in assessments will result in about a $660,000 loss in county revenue, officials have said.

Due to the lower assessments, “the average county property owner will pay the same amount” in taxes as he did in the past eight years despite the higher tax rate, according to County Administrator Tim Hall and the budget narrative.

Under the equalization recommendation, the real estate tax rate will rise from the current 46 cents per $100 of assessed value to 48.8 cents per $100 assessed value.

“The assessments have gone down. To equalize the revenue, the rate has to go up in a little bit,” Hall said. “If that does not result in a 1 percent growth in revenue, it is not considered a tax increase (according to the state code). Basically, it’s getting us back to where we were.”

Setting the rate at the proposed 48.8 cents will cover the estimated $660,000 and generate $129,259 more revenue than fiscal 2013, Hall said.

The additional revenue would be used to help with some expenses outlined in the proposed budget, Hall said.

Essentially, two factors prompted the equalization recommendation, he said. One is the recent reassessment, in which property values fell by 4.86 percent, resulting in a $672,446 drop in revenues.

The other factor is the tax levy. It has been 46 cents per $100 of assessed value since it was lowered from 54 cents following the 2008 reassessment, according to Hall.

Aside from the school system budget, overall expenses are down 2.1 percent in the proposed budget.

“I’m very proud of this one,” Hall said.

The county budget proposal includes level funding for the school division, but not the $266,343 or 1.61 percent increase the school board had requested. The school division is allotted $16,577,895 in local funds, the same as this year.

The budget plan has a 1 percent pay raise for county employees that would take effect on July 1. That raise is needed to comply with a state-required increase in employee contributions to the pension fund, Hall said.

The proposal also includes a 3 percent raise for county employees beginning Aug. 1 to match state-approved raises for state employees and constitutional offices, Hall said.

“By implementing these raises,” the supervisors “can get our staff virtually even with their” take home pay in fiscal 2012, according to the county proposal. It added that pay has declined due to changes in the amount of employee contributions to the state pension plan and payroll tax increases.

Under the proposal, three more school resource officers will be added to rotate among the county’s 12 schools. Those positions will be funded through the school system and sheriff’s office budgets.

Also, two new positions in the 911 Communications Center are recommended due to the call volume and the new Emergency Medical Dispatch program. The proposal stated that, if the Martinsville City Council agrees, the cost of the new positions will be shared with the city on an estimated two-thirds/one third basis.

A new position also is recommended to be shared by the Circuit Court and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts Offices to help ease workloads in both offices, according to the proposal. The majority of funding for this position would come from the state.

Upgrading a part-time position in the Parks and Recreation Office to full time also is recommended. The position essentially has been full time for years but has not been classified as such, according to the narrative.

In addition to the real estate tax change, the budget proposes a new treasurer administrative fee on collections. Hall projects that fee will generate $15,000.

Other highlights of the proposal include allocating $95,000 to the Ridgeway Rescue Squad for help in addressing mold issues at its building and allocating $175,000 to the Patrick-Henry Fire Department for capital needs.

The budget plan proposes that the supervisors’ contingency fund would remain at $150,000, including an estimated $50,000 for fuel cost fluctuations for all county departments.

Level funding is proposed for nearly all outside agencies that currently get county funds. One exception is the Blue Ridge Regional Library. The library system originally was budgeted to receive $786,574 last year before its allocation was reduced to $706,264 due to the separation of the Bassett Historical Center.

The spending plan for fiscal 2014 recommends $706,264 for the library system and $50,000 for the historical center in fiscal 2014.

The board Tuesday agreed to advertise the budget, which means the amount of the budget can drop but it cannot increase over the advertised amount.

Supervisors will hold a budget work session at 5 p.m. Thursday in the fourth floor meeting room of the Henry County Administration Building.

 

 
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