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School funds urged
But board makes no changes to budget plan
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer
Despite urging from three speakers to increase local funding for the county schools, the Henry County Board of Supervisors on Monday made no changes to proposed school funding for the coming fiscal year.
The speakers addressed the board during a public hearing on the budget at the County Administration Building. The supervisors made only one change — a $500 allocation to The Launch Place, a business development center — during the hearing.
The total amount of the proposed county budget is $117,238,114, of which $73,119,097 is allocated to the county schools.
School board Chairman Joe DeVault, Iriswood District school board member Curtis Millner and Dorothy Carter, president of the Henry County Education Association, asked the supervisors to give the schools the full amount of funds they requested for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, which will begin July 1.
According to previous Bulletin reports, although the school board requested a local funding increase of $476,847, county staff recommended a local increase of just $75,000.
“In our budget,” DeVault said, “there is nothing that we do not sincerely deem critical to meet the realistic needs of our students’ educational process and of their safety in our schools. The additional funding over previous years that we requested this year is necessary to meet unfunded edicts that are passed down to us by the state, things that we have no real control over. ... Failure to fund these requests simply puts us further in arrears.”
Millner stressed that the additional funding is necessary to help K-12 students be prepared for the high-tech manufacturing jobs that the supervisors have helped bring to the county.
Carter said the economic climate in Henry County is steadily improving, and any money spent on education is an investment.
Because there is no money left in the county’s current year contingency fund, Board Chairman H.G. Vaughn of the Ridgeway District said, any significant additional funding either would have to be taken from another budget item or new revenues would have to be found, potentially through a tax increase.
Collinsville District Supervisor Joe Bryant said that in the current economic climate, “sometimes even level funding is a good thing to have.”
“There’s not a soul in here that doesn’t want to see our school system grow,” Bryant said, “(but) there’s not a whole lot to move in this budget.”
Iriswood District Supervisor Milton Kendall said one of the board’s main priorities has been to avoid raising taxes in order to keep Henry County attractive to businesses.
“Being a past school board member, I’d like to see our schools receive more money,” Kendall said. “On the other hand, we have a lot of other organizations, and we have to look after them also. I feel like our staff’s done the best job they can.”
Horsepasture District Supervisor Debra Buchanan said that “Henry County has not seen any significant revenue increases since the economic slowdown, but I think Henry County has been able to keep its head above water. We have been moving forward — at a slow pace — but it has been progressing. We do see a light at the end of that tunnel, and we certainly hope in the future maybe we can have a budget that looks a little bit different than what we have now.”
In a separate matter, Eva Doss, president/CEO of The Launch Place, requested that the board consider allocating funding to the nonprofit, which had been slated to receive no funding under the proposed fiscal 2014-2015 county budget.
The Launch Place, formerly known as Southside Business Technology Center, is designed to promote economic development by providing affordable business consultancy services, Doss said.
The Launch Place has an office in Danville, she said, and retains a branch office in The Clocktower Building in Martinsville.
“A lot of our equity financing companies are reaching out to suppliers in Martinsville/Henry County,” Doss said. “Because The Launch Place has expanded its services, it’s definitely creating additional potential recruits for economic development organizations.”
Doss said that since the organization’s inception in 2005, Henry County has contributed roughly $35,000 in budget allocations, which has allowed The Launch Place to obtain $813,522 in grant funding.
However, she said, receiving no grant funding from the county in fiscal 2014-2015 would make it difficult for the organization to continue obtaining many of the state and local grants it has received in previous years.
“As long as we can say that we do have local support,” she said, “it would make us eligible for funding that we have been receiving so far.”
Blackberry District Supervisor Jim Adams said that if a small amount of county funding would aid The Launch Place in continuing to obtain those grants, he would not be opposed to making a change to the budget.
Vaughn suggested that funding be taken from the fiscal 2014-2015 contingency fund. The fund contains $150,000, of which $50,000 is reserved for fuel for county vehicles.
The board unanimously approved the allocation of $500 to The Launch Place.
Others who spoke at the public hearing included Rick Ward, director of Blue Ridge Regional Library; Mark Crabtree, president of Piedmont Virginia Dental Health Foundation; Kathy Rogers, executive director of Piedmont Arts; Joe Keiper, executive director of the Virginia Museum of Natural History; and Nicole Harris, executive director of the Martinsville-Henry County SPCA, all of whom thanked the board for their support.
Board Vice Chairman Tommy Slaughter of the Reed Creek District was unable to attend the hearing due to a recent eye injury, Vaughn said.