By Alex Bridges
WOODSTOCK - Shenandoah County leaders took time this week to trim a list of equipment and other needs for fiscal 2014.
But even after hearing concerns from the public Tuesday about proposed increases in operational spending and higher taxes, the Board of Supervisors did not discuss either topic. Much of the more than two hours at Thursday's budget work session focused on a list of capital projects for fiscal 2014.
Toward the end of the discussion, Vice Chairman Dennis Morris suggested the county hire a firm to conduct a staffing study for the Department of Fire and Rescue. The suggestion came out of a discussion about staffing requests by department Chief Gary Yew and efforts to fund additional sheriff's deputies to provide security in the schools.
The county recently paid a firm $36,000 to conduct a staffing study of the Sheriff's Office, including the 911 dispatch center, animal control and the needs related to the eventual opening of the regional jail in Warren County. The board asked the firm and staff to amend the study to reflect the Sheriff's Office needs for more school resource officers.
Yew had requested another eight firefighters in the next fiscal budget, but the financial plan before the board does not recommend funding that request.
Morris explained that a staffing study likely would give the fire department and the county an idea of what the agency needs in terms of paid firefighters. Morris said the study may come back and recommend the department shift some mid-level positions, or it could recommend the agency needs more firefighters.
Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli noted that such a study would have to reflect the county's volunteer stations and their staff - information that could add more time to the study.
Supervisors didn't say specifically how the county would pay for a fire and rescue staffing study, nor did they earmark an amount in the proposed fiscal budget. But Morris suggested the county begin the study in August.
Board members went down the list of capital projects and discussed whether the budget should include each item. By the end, the board had eliminated 16 of the 30 items. Most of the items they cut were requests by the Sheriff's Office for vehicles and equipment that supervisors said the agency planned to fund with money collected through law enforcement efforts.
The board cut $612,131 from the capital improvements projects list, leaving $604,574 remaining in the budget for fiscal 2014. The board eliminated $112,697 in items on a separate list for the school system, leaving $450,000.
Items such as computers and garbage disposal equipment remained on the list. However, Supervisor David Ferguson on several occasions voiced opposition to putting money in the budget for computers that remain in working order. But staff explained that some of the computers are almost 10 years old and have a greater potential to malfunction.
Sheriff Timothy C. Carter, who was not present at the work session, answered the question Friday about whether his agency could use money collected through law enforcement efforts to pay for the extra school resource officers and the equipment the personnel would need.
Carter said by phone he has confirmation from the Department of Justice that he can use asset forfeiture money to pay for the needed officers and equipment. The sheriff said regulations restrict him from using money to fund an existing position, but he can spend the funds to fill new positions.
Carter said that before he can start using the asset forfeiture funds the supervisors much choose how his office should proceed and part of that includes deciding on a funding schedule. Carter offered a few options, one of which calls for his office to fund 80 percent of the cost of the resource officers the first fiscal year. The five-year graduated plan calls for the county to eventually take over funding of the officers. Carter has offered to cover the entire cost of the equipment needed for the officers.
The proposed general operations fund for fiscal 2014 calls for the county to spend approximately $56.5 million. That amount includes local money the county would transfer to the school board. The revenue amount includes what the county can expect to receive with increases in the tax rates for real estate and personal property tax. The county has proposed increasing the real estate tax rate by 6 cents, or 12 percent, from 51 cents to 57 cents per $100 of assessed value. The county also proposes a 35-cent increase, or 11 percent, in the personal property tax from $3.15 to $3.50 per $100 of assessed value.
The board holds its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Supervisors expect to take action at that time on the proposed budget and to set the tax rates.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org