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No tax hike in budget plan
Hall: Look at it next year
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Henry County Administrator Tim Hall

Thursday, April 3, 2014

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

The proposed fiscal 2014-2015 Henry County budget does not recommend a tax increase, but a discussion of an increase may have to take place in the future, according to County Administrator Tim Hall.

The fiscal 2014-2015 budget is the most difficult Hall has ever worked on, he said Wednesday, when he presented the proposal to the Henry County Board of Supervisors and other county officials at the Henry County Administration Building.

The budget totals $117,238,114, which is 1.4 percent more than the current year’s budget of $115,656,057.

The county schools and education would receive the largest percentage of the budget — 66 percent, or $73,119,097. That is up 2.6 percent from last year’s school budget.

County staff did not recommend a tax increase in the upcoming fiscal year. However, Hall said, a conversation about a tax increase may need to take place in the future, because it no longer is possible to make budget cuts without sacrificing important services.

The tax rate this year is 48 cents per $100 of assessed value. The tax bill on a home assessed at $100,000 is $488.

The reason the budget was so difficult to compile, Hall said, is because the county is “between a rock and a hard place. The economy is ticking upwards, and we’re seeing just the front tip of that show up, but what we’re not seeing is real revenue generated by that uptick.”

In other words, Hall said, the county must spend money to make money, building the infrastructure necessary to support new businesses and economic incentives, but the payoff on that investment will not necessarily be reflected immediately.

“We are confident that we will see that return,” Hall said, “but sometimes we have to spend first and then get the return on the investment later.”

During the presentation, Hall highlighted several areas of the budget proposal.

Although the Henry County School Board requested a local funding increase of $476,847, county staff recommended a local increase of just $75,000.

Hall said he had no doubt that the school system needed the nearly $500,000 increase and more, but the county simply did not have the leeway to budget the full amount.

One significant change that Hall recommended for both the school system and county employees is a change to self-insurance for health care.

Under a self-insurance system, Hall said, the school system and county would assume direct responsibility for providing benefits to employees while also managing the assets of the plan.

Those participating in the county’s current health care plan through Anthem would see no change to their plans, Hall said. However, making the change would allow the county to hold on to a potentially significant amount of money that otherwise would go to the insurance company.

Self-insurance, he said, also would allow the county to avoid fees associated with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The fees are estimated at $350,000.

The county would contract with Anthem to handle medical claims, Hall said.

Based on past expenses, he said, had the county made the change to self-insurance in 2008, it would have been able to save more than $3 million between then and now.

Hall said county staff did not recommend a pay raise for county employees beyond a required 1 percent increase for the Virginia Retirement System, now in the third year of a five-year phase-in. However, even with that bump, county employees will see less take-home pay, he said. The reason for that was not detailed in the budget summary.

Hall said he hopes the board of supervisors can consider a one-time stipend for county employees before the end of the calendar year, depending on how fiscal 2015 looks at that point.

He recommended that the county stop holding its annual auction of surplus material, as the auction is “ineffective, it’s inefficient and it takes a ton of staff time.”

Hall recommended instead that the county consider switching to online auctions through the website govdeals.com, which would likely result in higher final bids due to a larger number of people viewing the auctioned items.

Hall also recommended several current-year budget action requests, including the replacement of the roof of the Henry County Administration Building, which he estimated would cost $300,000 from the fund balance and an additional $75,000 from the operations budget.

All four floors of the building have sustained expensive damage due to water leaking through the roof, Hall said. He added that buckets that frequently line the floors to collect dripping water do not project an impressive image to prospective business clients hoping to locate to Henry County.

Hall also mentioned a number of highlights of the past year, including expansions/openings at Monogram Foods, Commonwealth Laminating, Eastman Chemical, Bassett Furniture and Kilgour Industries, which together have invested or will invest $75.45 million in Henry County and have hired or will hire 365 people.

Hall also praised the county school system, including the naming of Rich Acres Elementary as a 2014 Title I Distinguished School; Magna Vista High School’s Warrior Tech Academy, the first of its kind in Virginia; and numerous other accolades.

He cited the ongoing partnership between Patrick Henry Community College and the New College Institute, saying that “if there’s one thing in this whole budget presentation that has the potential to impact us in a positive way going forward, it’s that.”

At the beginning of the meeting, Hall spoke about Philpott Marina, telling a story about an elderly couple who asked him to take their picture at the marina’s recent open house event. The couple told him that the marina was “‘one of the nicest things we’ve ever seen in Henry County.’”

“They stood at the bottom of the gangway with that Philpott Marina sign behind them and grinned like two kids on a date,” Hall said. “They were proud of where they lived at that moment, and we’ve got a lot of things to be proud of. We need to celebrate those things.”

He also mentioned the myriad contributions to the marina by the late Jeff Turton, who worked in the county’s engineering and mapping department and served as project manager on the marina project. Turton died of leukemia March 10.

“This was Jeff Turton’s baby,” Hall said. “Jeff treated this project like he was building his own house. I really wish he could see it today.”

Following the budget presentation, the board of supervisors authorized Hall to advertise the budget in the Martinsville Bulletin. The board will hold a budget work session at 5 p.m. today.

The board will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. April 14 at the Henry County Administration Building and vote on the budget at its regular monthly meeting on April 22.

 

 
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