Carroll proposes $1 million cut in school funding to balance budget

By Allen Worrell -

Relying heavily on a proposed cut of $1 million in local funding to Carroll County Public Schools, the Carroll County Board of Supervisors appears on track to make up the $2.7 million shortfall it was facing to balance its Fiscal Year 2017 budget. Even so, Carroll citizens can expect to see a slight tax increase in the upcoming Fiscal Year.

The plan, discussed Friday by Carroll County’s Budget Committee, proposes to reduce the county’s contribution to the school board by $1,007,673, but without affecting the school system’s overall budget. Additionally, the plan makes up the $2.7 million shortfall through increased collection of delinquent taxes – $710,000 additional for personal property taxes and $200,000 additional for real property delinquent taxes.

Other areas helping bridge the budget gap are an additional $189,000 budgeted for recovered costs from EMS, $103,693 cut from the county’s contribution to the Public Service Authority (PSA) and possibly another $100,000 from the PSA.

Carroll County citizens may still see slight increases in the tax rate for Fiscal Year 2017, however, as the budget committee is recommending money be adding for preliminary engineering on future school projects as well as funding for a fire truck apparatus and new school buses.

After meeting Friday with fellow budget committee member Rex Hill and Interim County Administrator Nikki Cannon, Carroll County Board of Supervisors’ Chairman Joshua Hendrick penned a letter to the Carroll County School Board informing them of the county’s plans to cut local funding to schools this year. In the letter, Hendrick maintained the board still plans to adopt the school system’s budget during its May 9 meeting. In order for that to be accomplished, he said the budget committee met Friday to close the $2.7 million deficit for the county budget.

“In order to bridge the remaining deficit we are recommending some changes to the CCPSD budget as it was presented. The changes come in the form of adjusting some revenue projections and from revenue sources that were not available at the time of the CCPSD budget presentation,” Hendrick wrote. “As previously discussed, we feel some revenue projections are too conservative and I have attached a spreadsheet summary of the recommended changes. The result is a zero affect to the overall CCPSD budget and will include a reduction of the county contribution by $1,007,673.”

Hendrick also noted the budget committee recommends proceeding with budgeting for preliminary engineering (PE) and school buses. The PE amount included for Fiscal Year 2017 is $200,000.

“Realizing that amount is not sufficient to provide PE funds for both the (Carroll County High School) project and the (Carroll County Middle School) boiler replacement, it is intended to provide the remaining funding in (Fiscal Year) 2018. I believe a more relaxed PE phase will allow for better planning, as well as provide more time to thoroughly search for available assistance through various programs for complete project funding. We feel these items are critical and to ensure their fruition the BOS Budget Committee recommendation is that the monies for PE and school buses be obtained by raising capital via a tax rate increase.”

Hendrick’s spreadsheet broke down areas where the county plans to cut its local contribution to the school system – $141,923 in lottery funds that were not budgeted, $85,750 in carryover funds from Fiscal Year 2016, $10,000 in Forest Revenue, $60,000 in E-Rate Revenue, $520,000 in refunds for school bus operations, and $190,000 in benefits from other state agencies for a difference of $1,007,673.

Budget Meeting

Before Friday’s budget meeting, Hendrick said the committee had whittled the shortfall from $2.7 million to $739,000. He told Hill he had also talked to the PSA about a reduction in the transfer to Authority of about $100,000.

“I explained to (PSA member) James (Light) we are doing an across the board approach and anything we can get is where we are trying to land. James was supportive of assisting with the deficit,” Hendrick said. “They are in process of looking at their rates in general, how they compare and impacts to the budget.”

Hendrick noted the only big-ticket item listed in the upcoming budget is $325,000 for a new county phone system. At that point, no money had been added for PE projects or for a fire truck or school buses. But making adjustments to the county’s contribution to schools would put the board at a shortfall of $19,590, Hendrick said.

“I can find that in the budget somewhere (to meet the shortfall),” Cannon said via telephone during the meeting.

Hendrick proposed putting in $200,000 for preliminary engineering for the next project at CCHS as well as a major boiler project with the HVAC system at the middle school. He said the county’s current debt service calendar clears up between 2021 and 2022.

“If we can lay the groundwork now, we will be ready to go. There is a significant drop-off in debt of about $1 million a year when we get there,” Hendrick said.

Adding that to proposed fire truck and school bus additions come out to around $1.15 million, or roughly 5.4 cents on the real estate tax levy. Cannon said she would be more comfortable with increasing the county’s personal property tax, which is lower than most of its neighboring counties, than increasing the real estate tax levy.

“I don’t know how we can do more wiggling without laying people off. We went to Sheriff’s Office twice, we’ve gone to every department and are currently working with the PSA and even talking to schools,” Hendrick said. “I don’t know what else we could do cut-wise.”

Henrick noted the $325,000 for a phone system won’t be on the books for the Fiscal Year 2018 budget. Neither will there be a reassessment cost of $220,000 such as with the pending budget.

“That is $545,000. Would we be better off to lease buses for a year and then maybe do a loan or lease for a truck for a year and then we will have $545,000 more next year?” Hendrick asked.

Cannon said the county will also reap more tax revenue from the natural gas lines in the ground next year. An incentive payment of $200,000 to Vanguard Industries for the pending budget won’t be in the coffers for 2018 either.

“So that is $745,000 of less expenditures next year than what we have this year,” Hendrick said.

Cannon said she could work on some projections on increases to the personal property tax rate if that is the direction the county wants to take.

Both Hendrick and Cannon said they didn’t look at the reduction in funding to local schools as a cut since it’s based on the school system’s budget presentation with a line for historical revenues. And with the $745,000 in additional money available in the 2018 budget, Hendrick suggested leaving in $200,000 in PE money for 2017 and look at lease options for a fire truck and school buses for about $100,000.

“Then you are only looking at $300,000 additional this year to make the difference up,” Hendrick said.

Cannon said she still would work up some projections.

“Nobody wants to reduce funding to education, but the way I look at is it’s just lines in the budget with historical averages, which is what we have to do every time with everything we do,” Hendrick said. “Everybody is tightening their belt.”

Hill said Carroll County has stepped up in the past for education. Out of 134 school systems in Virginia, he said Carroll is 108 on the composite index, meaning there are 108 school systems better equipped to pay for education.

“But yet we still step up to pay for that,” Hill said. “The minimum requirement is $6.6 million and we step each year for over $11 million.”

Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN

By Allen Worrell

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