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Posted February 27, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Warren County faces budget gap

By Alex Bridges

A $2.3 million shortfall stands between Warren County and a balanced budget for fiscal 2014.

County officials presented financial information to the Board of Supervisors at a budget work session Tuesday during which County Administrator Douglas Stanley advised the board officials may close the budget gap with reserve funds and tax revenue expected from the Dominion power plant project.

"Typically, what we'll do is we'll approach [the budget] from the standpoint of cutting things that we can cut, look at which items that may be capital in nature that we could possibly use fund balance to fund them," Stanley said.

Supervisors indicated they would rather avoid raising real estate rates above the current levy of 59 cents per $100 of assessed value, according to Stanley. However, supervisors suggested looking at other tax rates and fees to increase revenue.

The county generates approximately $380,000 per each cent of the real estate tax rate annually, according to Stanley.

At this point in budget discussions last year, the county faced a $1.9 million shortfall for fiscal 2013, Stanley said by phone Wednesday. He noted that the county did not increase the real estate tax to fill the gap.

"We worked to reduce requests and continue to evaluate the revenue stream to see if anything changes that consists of any additional revenue to be able to work that number down to a manageable level," Stanley recalled.

Stanley gave information to the board that included department and outside agencies but not the School Board's request. Stanley said the assumption is that the School Board will not request any local funding over what the system received for the current budget. An increase in the School Board's budget could widen the revenue-spending gap facing the county, Stanley warned.

The administrator noted that county revenues remain below what the locality had at this time last year because the board used money from its reserves to increase spending.

Stanley has presented a preliminary budget of $41.41 million for fiscal 2014. That marks a 3.9 percent increase in spending over the $39.83 million in the current budget, according to county information. By comparison, the county had a budget of $47.69 million in fiscal 2012 and $45.28 million the previous period.

The $41.41 million to cover various department requests were presented to the board at a work session earlier this month. Given the local appropriation to the school system in the current budget of $20.41million, the county would need to cover a total of $61.8 million, according to information provided to the board. However, officials project the county to receive only $59.52 million in revenue for the general fund in fiscal 2014. The difference leaves a shortfall of $2.3 million.

Nearly all departments asked for more money in fiscal 2014. Departments requested $42.37 million - a 6.34 percent increase over the current budget. As Stanley explained, much of the departmental increases include funding required to cover raises for employees implemented Jan. 1, halfway through the fiscal period. The county now needs to cover the salary increases for the full fiscal period, Stanley said.

In the discussion about spending on capital projects, local funding for the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail on U.S. 522 has increased from $250,000 to $350,000 in the proposed budget, according to Stanley. Stanley explained the county has been putting aside money in the budget to pay the estimated local share of the jail costs of $1.5 million when the facility opens in July 2014. The amount comes from the assumption the county would provide approximately 50 percent of the inmates out of the three participating localities.

The proposed budget also includes preliminary figures for state revenue. However, Stanley noted that this amount could change depending what the General Assembly allocates in the state's biennial budget.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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