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State funds to city police may increase

Friday, February 21, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

More state funding could be coming to the Martinsville Police Department.

The General Assembly plans to increase “599 funds” to localities in fiscal 2015 and 2016, according to the Virginia Association of Counties’ (VACo) website.

Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that Martinsville’s share will increase, said city Finance Director Linda Conover.

Yet she is skeptical, she said, having seen lawmakers squabble over money time and time again.

Martinsville’s share of 599 funds for the current fiscal year is $841,560.

The city will not find out how much more it will get, if any, in the future until the House and Senate work out differences in budget proposals, Conover said.

The funding source is named after House Bill 599, which was enacted in 1979 and provided more state funds to cities in response to their giving up annexation rights.

Conover said 599 funds are the police department’s major source of state funding. This fiscal year, they represent 21 percent of the department’s $4 million budget.

Other state funds for the department are from grants sought and received for specific purposes, said Interim Police Chief Eddie Cassady.

The 599 funds go into the city’s general fund, so they are not tied to a certain purpose although they are budgeted for the police, Conover said.

“We always welcome more” 599 funds, Cassady said, noting they have “dwindled down” annually in recent years.

The funds “help take the burden off the city for the whole budget of the police department,” he said.

In the past fiscal year, the city received about $880,000, he recalled.

The Senate Finance Committee’s budget proposal would increase 599 funds to localities statewide by $7.1 million, for a total of $179.5 million, in fiscal 2015 and by $14.24 million, for a total of $186.7 million, in fiscal 2016.

The House budget proposal removes the second year’s increase so both years are funded at roughly $179.5 million, information placed on VACo’s website Tuesday shows.

A report by the Public Safety Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee shows the exact amount is $179,481,763.

For fiscal 2014, a total of $172,412,837 in 599 funds was distributed to localities, according to the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services’ (DCJS) website.

The DCJS, its website shows, calculates sums provided to eligible localities by using a distribution formula specified in state code. Localities’ sums can change yearly based on the General Assembly’s appropriation for a certain year and the values of variables used in the formula.

“If the formula is based on a total pot of money, it is conceivable that it (Martinsville’s allocation) would go up” if the General Assembly puts more money into the pot, Conover said.

Being “really conservative” in budgeting, however, “I don’t think ... I’d be excited about it until I see it in black-and-white,” she said, referring to any increase being approved and documented.

“I’m just excited that it would appear they have no intentions of cutting” 599 funds again, she added.

From the House’s standpoint, “the amount to be distributed to each locality in each year shall be at least equal to the amount distributed in fiscal year 2014," the Public Safety Subcommittee’s report states.

Only cities, towns and counties with police departments receive 599 funds. Counties whose sheriff’s offices handle day-to-day law enforcement matters, such as Henry County, do not receive the funds, according to the DCJS.

The Martinsville Police Department has not yet determined how it might use extra 599 funds.

Cassady said, though, they could be put toward routine expenses such as salaries and replacing worn-out police cars.

 

 
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