Planning, cuts help Carroll balance budget

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Carroll County's budget process has seen several new innovations this year, earning the financial management director a round of applause at the end of a presentation at the regular April meeting on Monday.

Carroll's 2010 budget proposal of $31.94 million comes complete with department missions, measurable goals, service levels, charts showing revenue sources, graphs showing county and state breakdowns for funding constitutional offices, explanations of large increases and decreases to line items and more.

The improvements to the document earned Pam Smith, the county's finance director, unanimous praise.

County Administrator Gary Larrowe recapped the direction given to the budget process by the finance committee and the supervisors.

"The budget committee gave us some rather stringent guidelines," he said.

Work on the budget started last July with the adoption of a calendar that paced the process over the entire year, the county administrator noted. The end result has been county officials putting together a proposal in which the citizens will be able to see where the money is being spent.

Officials sought information from departments, including missions and goals, so they could plan for the future, Larrowe said. He cited examples from several departments, such as the information technology department replacing computers every four years, the victim-witness office helping 55 victims of domestic violence and the library providing wireless Internet services to its clients.

"If you don't ever have goals, then you will never reach your target," Larrowe said.

One of the supervisors' goals was to implement a capital improvement plan. This involves departments looking five years into the future in order to plan for items needing replacement or repair.

Under capital improvement requests, departments submitted $2.4 million. However, the revenue available totaled $1.244 million.

All the supervisors gave input during the budget process, in one form or another, Larrowe noted. That the supervisors didn't want any tax increases got repeated over and over.

"We certainly did not want to step outside of the boundaries of what you want, because what you want is a reflection of what the citizens want in this community," Larrowe said.

"So what we have under the revenue, there's absolutely no tax increase," he noted.

If the proposal had contained any tax increase, Larrowe recalled Chairman David Hutchins saying “prepared to be disappointed,” because supervisors wouldn't consider it.

The chairman's advice was to live within the existing revenue levels.

County officials assumed that, in the current troubled state of the economy, many of Carroll's revenue streams would decline — property values and state aid to localities would all shrink, for example.

That's why county officials wanted to be conservative in their revenue forecasts, Larrowe said.

Another change is not budgeting for grants before they are received, he said. Waiting will allow officials to count "birds in the hand," instead of counting on anticipated grants.

Under expenses, Carroll will no longer buy capital items on an as-needed basis, but instead plan a replacement schedule in advance, Larrowe said. "If there's a single word for this budget. I think it is based off planning."

This budget proposal calls for:

• level funding to the school system;

• no salary increases for county employees;

• employees covering an 11.8 percent increase in health insurance;

• reductions to line items for part-time help that have gone unused in the past.

All other opportunities for savings will be considered, Larrowe said, meaning that the county will do what it can to avoid additional costs like service charges.

Total requests in the budget came to $33.53 million, and projected revenue came to $31.94 million — a deficit of nearly $1.6 million.

Larrowe then turned the budget explanations over to Smith.

"The proposed budget is a balanced budget and it includes $1.6 million dollars of reductions in order to balance," she explained.

Most of the reductions came from funding about half of the capital improvement requests, Smith said. Other savings came from not funding new positions, cutting part-time wages and more.

Praise for Smith and her work was universal.

Larrowe said she is worth 10 times her weight in gold.

Hutchins, at the end of the presentation, led a round of applause for Smith for these innovations.

"This is a dream, vision, goal that started in 2007, when I went to a [local government] certification class and proudly took our budget and learned there was another way to do it," Hutchins said.

This proposal is a budget the county can be proud of, he added.

The 2010 county budget proposal is available online at www.carrollcountyva.org/govt_template/Budget_Documents/