Carroll faces challenging budget year

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Real estate values drop, tax revenue falls and state funding is uncertain

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Reduction in real estate values after reassessment and the resulting decrease in tax revenues will create challenges for Carroll County officials for fiscal year 2013-2014, they discussed at a budget committee meeting Tuesday.
The recent reassessment reflected a drop in Carroll real estate values of nearly $277.7 million, County Administrator Gary Larrowe noted in the preliminary budget talks on Feb. 5. That could cause tax revenue to decrease as much as $1.65 million.
The decline in tax revenues come as supervisors have expressed a need to focus on school safety, after the mass shooting of students and faculty at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., in December 2012.
When making their budget, county officials also have to take into consideration the state mandate of increasing Virginia Retirement System contributions for employees. Larrowe said that Carroll officials decided to address the total 5 percent increase in five years by adding 1 percent a year.
For this year alone, the increased contributions will cost the county $60,000, he said.
“Of course, a big unknown there would be the uncertainty of the state budget,” Larrowe said, moving on to the next concern.
County officials don’t know if the reductions in funding from the state will continue this year or not. The county administrator noted that several county officials visited Richmond recently during the legislative succession and the budget situation remained unclear.
In terms of major budget components, Larrowe pointed out that the school request under the 2012-2013 fiscal year came in at $10.8 million, plus about $3.67 million for debt service.
The New River Valley Regional Jail request is expected to be around $1.2 million.
There was a failed effort to increase the state per diem for prisoners, county officials noted.
The proposal has been tabled in the General Assembly, but had it been approved, the state would have sent an additional $900,000 to the regional jail, said Nikki Shank, assistant administrator.
Capital improvement project requests total about $6.5 million for the county, the Public Service Authority and the schools, Larrowe said. The $4.4 million request from the schools includes updating the heating and air conditioning system at Carroll County High School and security features.
In the past, Larrowe said the county has saved money by leaving positions unfilled or reducing them. That had saved approximately $500,000 since 2009.
“There are challenges, of course, constant challenges in trying to maintain the services, expand the services, with the same kind of quality services and trying to do that at a reasonable price,” the county administrator said.
County officials also have conservatively projected saving $100,000 from a day reporting program, in which non-violent offenders would do community service projects instead of going to jail, Larrowe said. A smaller locality that has such a program saved about $80,000 in nine months.
County officials also expect to save about $30,000 by heating the governmental center with natural gas.
“We’re really looking at any alternative for saving a dollar,” Shank said.
Supervisor Tom Littrell asked if it is possible to get a better return on the county’s money.
It’s possible, Shank said. She believes that the treasurer’s office is working on a request for proposal for banking services.
School safety is going to come to the forefront, Supervisor Phil McCraw expected.
“Safety is going to be a priority for the board of supervisors, school safety,” he said. “We’re going to do everything in our power to make the schools as safe as we can.”
He did not mention any specifics.
McCraw also wanted the county administration to set up meetings with the school board budget committee. He stressed that county officials want to be sure that the budget planning goes as smoothly as possible.
The county budget committee will meet again on March 6.