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Supervisors OK Nelson County budget without additional $1M to schools

The Nelson County Board of Supervisors on June 27 approved and appropriated a county budget that does not include the additional $1 million toward education the board committed earlier in the month.

At the beginning of the board’s discussions on school funding, Supervisor Tommy Harvey had supported only $1 million of the $3.4 million increase the school board requested from the county above its 2021-2022 approved budget. But on June 14 he cast the tie-breaking vote to fund the schools an additional $1 million beyond the $1.5 million increase in education funding the board had previously agreed to, bringing the board’s total schools budget increase to $2.5 million.

Harvey once again broke a tie on June 27 when he voted to approve an amended budget that funds the schools only $1.5 million over this year’s budget, and rolls back the additional $1 million. He was joined by Supervisor David Parr and board chair Jesse Rutherford while supervisors Skip Barton and Ernie Reed voted against.

At Monday’s meeting, Interim County Administrator Candy McGarry cautioned the board about committing another $1 million to the schools given the school board’s intention to augment teachers’ and support staff’s salaries with the additional money. The school board has proposed using the increased funding to provide a 5% raise for all employees.

The General Assembly’s approved budget includes funding for the 5% raise for all SOQ, or standards of quality, funded positions in both 2023 and 2024, but not all division employees. McGarry’s concern was that augmenting schools employees salaries in the 2022-2023 budget (establishing a $17 minimum wage and making improvements to both support staff and teachers’ seniority-based salary scales) would compound the expected 5% salary increase in 2024.

“That’s going to significantly bump up what that cost is going to be next year,” McGarry said.

She voiced concern over how the board would fund cost of living increases for county employees and about “equity issues” between the school board raising the division’s minimum wage to $17 while the board makes no change to county employees’ minimum wage.

“How will the board sustain increases in economy driven county operational expenditures such as fuel and utility costs, regional jail operation and debt service costs, solid waste hauling, given we’re going to have some likely declines in our economy driven revenues?” McGarry asked.

The board had agreed to allocate its remaining $999,619 in recurring revenues to the schools on June 14, leaving $0 in recurring contingency.

Rutherford said if the county adopted the budget as presented, with an additional $2.5 million to the schools and zero dollars in recurring contingency money, “we can’t increase the pay of the deputies. We can’t increase the pay of dispatch. We can’t pay any salary increases for the county in the future. It’s going to put us in a very tough spot.”

Sheriff David Hill had spoken during an earlier comments period, asking if the board could do anything to improve his deputies’ salaries before a current county compensation study is completed in the fall, given the competitive starting salaries in nearby counties.

“We really try not to raise taxes, we really try not to, but as we set it up we would have to raise taxes next year,” Rutherford said.

He said the board would not be able to increase recurring revenue after the additional $1 million in school funding without raising taxes.

“From the situation that we’re in right now, I believe that we do have the ability to do everything that’s in our budget right now and also consider other salary increases that may not be in this budget now but may be in front of us very soon,” Reed said.

The county budget, which takes effect July 1, includes no change to the current transient occupancy tax rate, an additional $1.5 million in school funding and a recurring transfer of $610,000 to the county’s debt service reserve to allow for a future $54 million debt potential.

After the meeting, Nelson County School Board chair Margaret Clair said in an interview she was very disappointed but not surprised at the board of supervisors’ decision, adding she expects the budget cut “is gonna hit us hard.”

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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