By Cameron Jones
Government budget for FY 2014.”
So begins the Executive Summary of the FY 2014 Budget Proposal from County Administrator Paul McCulla.
On the Fauquier County Budget website, you will find the Table of Contents and a more in depth explanation of all the budgets.
Upcoming milestones in the process are:
Mar 19 FY 2014 Budget Work session (Subject Briefings) (2:00 PM).
FY 2014 proposed budget public hearing (7:00 PM).
Mar 21 FY 2014 Budget Work session (Mark-Up/Mark-Down) (2:00 PM).
Mar 26 BOS adopts FY 2014 budget, Capital Improvement Program (CIP) and tax rates (4:00 PM).
Apr 9 School Board approves final appropriated budget & CIP.
The only session open for public input is the March 19th hearing which will be conducted at Warrenton Middle School, 244 Waterloo Street in Warrenton at 7pm.
Here is my summary of the Executive Summary. I have included a few of my own comments which I have qualified as in “My words”.
I urge everyone to review the upcoming budget, and if at all possible please go to the hearing and make your voice heard.
There is going to be a tax increase coming out of this process and you need to engage your supervisor and let them know your thoughts so they can make the best decision possible.
Contact information can be found here on the BoS website.
First we have a sort of State of the County assessment by our County Administrator Paul McCulla:
County revenues continue to increase, however “the mild level of growth creates certain challenges” for the BoS as they consider the FY2014 budget.
New revenue comes primarily from real and personal property taxes, although reductions in revenue from business equipment due to the reduction in rates by the Board in 2010 have reduced the rate of growth in this area. Sales tax revenue has recovered substantially as well.
Unemployment in the county has remained steady at around 4.3%. Foreclosure rates have dropped substantially, although 2012 rates remain higher than pre-recession rates.
Two notable challenges will affect the 2014 budget; additional costs incurred by the Board in 2013 when they voted to increase the number of career Fire and Rescue staff; and higher health care costs for county employees. These factors increase the amount of new revenue needed to cover these expenditures to approximately $2.1 million.
The Board has reduced expenditures over the last few years, which has resulted in reduced services to county citizens and businesses. One of the reductions has been a 50% reduction to Purchase of Development Rights (PDR), an expense that could be (and I believe should be; My words) completely done away with.
Employee pay increases (with the exception of teachers who have received some small increases and bonuses; My words) have been frozen from 2008 to 2012, and 37 positions have been eliminated.
Many capital projects have also been deferred during this period.
The school division budget has been held flat (except for additional funding for the FHS renovation which continues to plague the Board; My words) since the reductions of 2011, however additional state and federal funds have restored funding to 99.4% of 2009 levels.
Mr. McCulla’s proposed budget includes a modest increase to school funding for FY2014, although certainly not the massive increase of $5.1 million the Acting Superintendent is asking for.
Actions by the Board have maintained Fauquier County’s status as an employer at favorable levels, even with the salary freeze. Fauquier ranks 10th of 20 peer jurisdictions in combined compensation (salary and benefits); ranking 2nd in the richness of benefits and 15th in Salary.
Mr. McCulla believes this has kept the county competitive with other similar jurisdictions, a point that has been contended in the past, particularly by the Teachers Association who has frequently cited inequities with the more wealthy adjacent jurisdictions of Prince William and Loudon.
Factors Shaping the FY 2014 Proposed Budget
Base revenue is projected to increase approximately $2.8 million, or 1.8%. These increases will be largely due to growth in personal property and real property taxes, as well as sales tax revenues. (My words; all of this is of course dependent on the state of the national economy which continues to flounder).
Fauquier will benefit from the elimination of the State’s across the board revenue reductions as well, meaning more state money will flow into our county.
Major initiatives by the Board will be constrained due to prior decisions such as the increase in Fire and Rescue staff (22 new employees costing about $1 million annually), and continued increases in health care (as Obamacare continues to implemented; My words).
Debt service expenses will also increase mainly due to sales of bonds for the Fauquier High School renovation, as well as anticipated debt related to the Catlett/Calverton sewer project and continued construction at the county landfill.
Additionally, there are some expenditures that have been put off for a number of years that can no longer be deferred, such as upgrading county vehicles including Sheriff cars and equipment.
Initial submission by County departments called for approximately $6.7 million in additional local funding, the Volunteer Fire and Rescue submitted a request for $1.9 million in new funds for the Fire and Rescue levy, and the School division requested a $5.1 million increase.
Mr. McCulla has requested a more modest increase of 3.5 cents to the tax rate which would add about $35/year to each $100,000 of assessed value, meaning the average homeowner’s real estate taxes would rise about $110/year based on a value of $313,200. Qualifying elderly and disabled tax payers would generally not see an increase depending on the exemptions afforded them under the County tax relief program.
(At the recent Heartland town hall meeting, Mr. McCulla indicated that he is also preparing an assessment for the Board based on a 1 cent increase which would require some tough decision by the board. A minimum 1 cent increase is necessary to cover the hiring of the additional Fire and Rescue employees)
Under Mr. McCulla’s proposed budget the Fire and Rescue levy would more than double, and the school budget would increase to $127.9 million, a $2.4 million increase in combined federal, state, and local funding which maintains the same share of the local budget. This is about half of the increase requested by the Acting Superintendent, but exceeds pre-recession/pre-reduction figures for the first time since the recession began.
Mr. McCulla’s proposed budget also includes a 2.5% cost of living increase for all county employees, which will be partially offset by increased employee contributions to health care, the loss of the federal payroll tax cut in 2013 and a forecasted 1.8-2% increase in consumer prices.
The Capital Improvement Program (CIP) totals $94.6 million from FY2014 through FY2019. It should be noted that this money comes primarily from debt issuance. The break down is 10.2% of total appropriations and $85 million from debt issuance.
This pretty well sums up the high points and I will close with Mr. McCulla’s summary in his own words.
“With the local economy and County finances continuing their slow recovery, decisions regarding the allocation of scarce resources become, in many ways, more complex. I look forward to working with the Board of Supervisors to develop a budget that maintains fiscal prudence while addressing the needs of the community during this period of economic transition”.