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Grayson needs last-minute budget fix

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By Patrick Smith

INDEPENDENCE — Grayson County will have to make some adjustments to its proposed 2015 budget, following the long-awaited passage of Virginia’s state budget by the General Assembly last week.

The Grayson County Board of Supervisors and county staff have been working diligently for months on a proposed 2015 county budget, but had to estimate how much funding the state would provide.

Until the June 12 vote, the General Assembly had been paralyzed by a stalemate over the expansion of Medicaid coverage, with Gov. Terry McAuliffe and a majority of the Senate pushing expansion and the Republican-dominated House opposing it. The recent resignation of Sen. Phillip Puckett (D-Russell County) gave Republicans a 20-19 majority in the senate, leading to the passage of a state budget that does not include the Medicaid expansion.

It still awaits McAuliffe’s signature.

“The state’s adopted budget was considerably different than what we were estimating to derive our county budget,” said Grayson County Administrator Jonathan Sweet in an email. “These new figures will require some reworking on our end prior to [the county budget’s] adoption on June 25.”

Reflecting an estimated $1.6 billion shortfall caused by lagging tax revenue, the $96 billion state budget eliminates pay raises approved by lawmakers earlier this year for school teachers, college professors and other state employees.

“The state’s revenue shortfall is reflected in what they will be providing Grayson County, and we will now have the difficult task of considering how we may go about mitigating the loss of revenue in an already tenuous budget year,” Sweet said.

The Grayson Board of Supervisors is set to adopt the county’s 2015 budget, with the state-required adjustments incorporated, during a special meeting on June 25 at 5:30 p.m.

Citizen Comments on Budget

One citizen spoke during a public hearing about the proposed 2015 budget at the June 12 meeting.

Sweet prefaced the public hearing by providing some final budget numbers, and said the board had achieved its key objectives while avoiding tax increases.

The proposed county budget is up by 2.2 percent, and Sweet added that the spending plan maintains a 10 percent operational reserve, gives fire and rescue squads the same amount they received this year, gives the school system $75,000 more than the amount required by the state (intended to assist with bus purchases) and pays off three bonds totaling $741,600. Paying off these bonds will save the county $352,000 in interest, Sweet said.

Additionally, the real estate tax rate remains at 49 cents per $100 of assessed value, and other tax rates remain the same, including: personal property, $1.75; machinery and tools, $1.75; and merchants’ capital, $6.70 — all per $100 of assessed value.

The lone citizen who spoke at the hearing was Karen Hollifield, who thanked the board and county staff for their work on the budget, but inquired about $8,300 budgeted under “Local Support” for a roofing project at the Flatridge Community Center.

Hollifield, who is involved with the Comers Rock Community Center, said that if the Flatridge Community Center receives the funding, she would like to put in a request for the same amount of funding for Comers Rock.

“It only seems fair to me,” she said. “I can’t tell you right now because I don’t want to be speaking for everybody, but you know what? I’m sure we need a new roof.”

She added that the Comers Rock Community Center is “very active,” putting on plays and dinner theater presentations. She also extended an invitation to each supervisor to visit.

After she made her comments, Supervisor At-Large David Sexton requested an invitation to the center’s next dinner theater event.

Other Comments

During time reserved for additional public comment, speaker Edgar DeHart directed questions to the board about a county fencing policy, and asked for a repeal of the 2004 resolution to make Grayson a “Fence Out” county.

The policy means that property owners are required to fence animals out of their land, which means they have to share the cost of boundary fences with neighbors. DeHart only realized the existence of the policy in 2013, and he was certain that there was “not one person in the room that can tell me what their responsibilities are as a citizen of Grayson County as to fencing.”

“I feel like this type of thing has been very detrimental to a lot of people in this county, especially those who are lesser than we – those who can’t fight back,” he said. “I feel like our property rights have been compromised with this policy. It is my belief that we should neither a fence in nor a fence out policy.”

DeHart shared a letter with the newspaper that he had sent to the board, asking that it take action at its next regular meeting to “re-hear the ‘fence in, fence out’ policy, along with a public hearing to assure the public is involved and there is transparency for any action taken.”