The Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors got its first public look at the proposed fiscal year 2020 county and schools budgets during Tuesday evening’s meeting.
As is often the case, there was mixed reaction by the supervisors and some terse exchanges with school officials.
County Administrator Mark Taylor, who soon will leave Spotsylvania to take the same job in Greene County, presented his final budget to the supervisors.
His proposed operating budget of $496.5 million is 4.8 percent or $22.5 million higher than the fiscal 2019 budget, but includes no change to the tax rates.
Under his proposal, the county’s real estate tax rate would remain 83 cents per $100 assessed value because of increased revenues from local, state and federal sources.
The county anticipates increased real estate revenues of $6.5 million from growth and increases of more than $800,000 in personal property tax revenues and more than $500,000 in the local share of state sales tax revenues. The meals tax will bring in an additional $420,000 in FY20.
Some of the key initiatives in the budget include seven new positions for the Department of Social Services, raises for county and schools staff and new financial software.
Staff pay increases, based on a study produced for the county, amount to $2 million. The study-based raises have been phased in; this is the third and final year for county staff raises and the second year for school employees.
Public safety accounts for 11 percent of the operating budget, the second highest expenditure in the proposal. Fire and rescue requests $21.97 million, a 9.6 percent increase. The Sheriff’s Office requests $19 million, an 8.3 percent increase.
The Social Services Department requests $10.150 million, a 4.4 percent increase. The seven new social services positions will cost $975,682. Taylor said the positions are needed to keep up with the demand for services.
The proposed capital budget of $58 million, which includes schools, utilities and general county capital projects, would be an increase of 1.8 percent over the current fiscal year. (The budget also calls for using $11.7 million in cash reserves to fund capital projects.)
Capital projects include $36 million for water/sewer projects, $10.3 million for the renovation and expansion of Courtland High, $11.5 million for other school maintenance projects, $4.7 million for judicial center renovation and expansion, $4.6 million for technology improvements, $4 million for school buses, $3.4 million to widen U.S. 17 and a bridge at the Massaponax interchange, $3.3 million to replace fire and rescue equipment, $3.1 for school technology projects, $1.3 million for landfill and convenience center improvements and $1.1 million toward the animal shelter renovation.
Supervisors kept most comments brief at the end of a long meeting, with the bulk of talk surrounding relatively minute expenditures for Germanna Community College and YMCA building projects.
Supervisor Greg Benton adamantly opposed giving the community college $100,000 for construction of a health facility at the Orange County campus and $200,000 for the county’s YMCA branch expansion, saying the county shouldn’t be funding such operations.
Other supervisors disagreed with Benton, saying the community college and YMCA are positives for county residents.
The budget’s biggest expenditure is education, which at $128.2 million accounts for 48 percent of the operating budget.
There was much discussion of the school system’s proposed budget earlier in the meeting.
A primary sticking point for supervisors was the school system’s total budget request of $321.4 million, with funding coming from local, state and federal sources. The School Board approved the budget, 5-2, at its Monday meeting.
The request falls more than $12 million short of projected funding, according to a presentation given to the supervisors.
Most of the supervisors seemed to favor the pay increases. On top of the local raises, the schools budget also includes a projected 5 percent teacher raise proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam. That raise also includes a local match. Last year all school employees, except administrators, received a 4 percent raise.
The supervisors, however, had issues with the request for more staff than expected.
Supervisor Tim McLaughlin asked why the budget requests 145 new employees, 119 more than had previously been projected, based on a three-year plan for staffing.
Supervisors David Ross and Benton also were unhappy with the higher than expected staffing request.
School Board Chairman Baron Braswell said they took a different tack with this budget in an effort to “show the true needs of the division.”
“We’re really operating on the bone” when compared to other school systems, Braswell told supervisors. He added that past budgets were produced in a “recession environment.”
Schools Superintendent Scott Baker apologized to the supervisors for the surprise, but added that educators continue to deal with more intensive expectations and “need more resources” to keep up.
He said they also should have a “vision of what’s best for our students.”
Braswell said the only way to move forward is to find out what the school system needs to do that.
In his presentation, Braswell said Spotsylvania is the 12th largest school division in the state. He also pointed out that “there is a qualified teacher shortage” and the county is trying to keep and recruit the best educators they can. He said the system needs the county and state raises to compete with other localities.
Although enrollment in Spotsylvania has decreased, school officials said such issues as security, along with special education, disabled and English as a Second Language students add burdens that have to be addressed, and that comes with a cost.
Both Ross and McLaughlin were antagonistic in exchanges over the specialty school topic, often cutting off Baker and Braswell as they tried to answer questions. Ross eventually said he supported the concept, but was concerned that the School Board didn’t appear to be involved in the decision and the unknown costs.
The specialty schools concept would allow high school students to travel to other high schools in the county in order to study courses focused on such career training as teaching and technology. The School Board has not approved the curriculum.
Braswell said the approach is “forward thinking.” He equated it to the school system’s approach to employee health insurance, which he said has saved the county $4.3 million since fiscal year 2018.
Supervisors Gary Skinnner, Chris Yakabouski, Kevin Marshall and Chairman Paul Trampe seemed more positive in their comments.
“I don’t think the school system should apologize for anything,” Skinner said, adding that the county hasn’t provided enough funding in past years and needs to address it now.
Trampe and Yakabouski said they have concerns with the budget price tag, acknowledging that it likely will prove difficult to close the $12 million gap.
The supervisors and School Board will hold a budget work session on March 12, which will be followed by a public hearing on March 26.
In other business, the board scheduled a public hearing for the proposed 500 megawatt solar facility in western part of the county.
The hearing will start at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 26 at Spotsylvania High School.