By Alex Bridges
Warren County leaders say the General Assembly shouldn't let the Medicaid expansion issue hold up a deal on the budget.
The Board of Supervisors this week joined a growing number of elected officials urging "timely" passage of a state budget because local governments rely on those numbers to set tax rates and craft their own spending plans. Additionally, governments must provide figures to local school divisions by May 1 in time for education officials to set contracts with teachers.
State legislators adjourned the regular session March 8 without adopting a budget for the biennium beginning July 1. The General Assembly is expected to convene a special session Monday to work out a budget.
This marks the sixth time since 1998 that the General Assembly has adjourned a regular session without reaching a deal on a budget, according to information from the Virginia Municipal League, a lobbying group that represents towns and cities. The Virginia Association of Counties also recognizes the need for local governments to know what the state budget has in store for them.
VACo Deputy Executive Director Dean Lynch said this week that local governments must rely on the current state figures. The lack of a state budget leaves counties guessing.
"In the end, we're very hopeful that they will negotiate and they will come up with a state budget," Lynch said. "But if they don't, that would be the time for local governments to start doing resolutions, letters, encouraging their local delegates and senators to work and negotiate a compromise because really the deadlines are creeping up on local governments."
Local governments are nearing the point at which they hold public hearings on proposed tax rates, Lynch said.
Warren County supervisors adopted a resolution Tuesday that states the county "relies on the timely passage of a budget to allocate funding to local government services and make policy and personnel decisions for the upcoming fiscal year." The resolution goes on to state that "failure to pass a timely budget will result in uncertainty for Warren County, which receives a significant portion of its funding as direct aid from the Commonwealth."
Supervisor Tony Carter said at the board's meeting that the General Assembly should pass a budget and then deal with the issue of Medicaid expansion.
"Frankly, they shouldn't be holding the whole state budget hostage just for this one issue," Carter said.
Board Chairman Daniel Murray Jr. concurred, noting the local need for state budget numbers.
"I think so county government can move forward we need to do this," Murray said. "We're being held hostage at this time and we can't be held hostage."
In response to a question from Supervisor Archie Fox, County Administrator Douglas Stanley said the local government in the past has passed a budget based on estimated state data. The county then has had to adopt resolutions that clean up the local budget once the General Assembly and the governor adopted a state spending plan.
"The problem is, certainly, if this drags on into June then we have more of an issue," Stanley said.
Stanley reminded the board that state code requires the county provide a budget to the school system by May 1. At the same time, Stanley noted that county needs to determine by mid April the tax rates so the commissioner of the revenue can begin to send out bills.
"Again, we can make some assumptions and move forward," Stanley said. "If we get caught and we're short on funding, that's going to cause some problems."
The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors adopted a similar resolution last week.
Resolutions can help local governments and elected leaders have their concerns heard, Lynch said.
"They're advocating for a state budget and most of these resolutions and letters go to their local elected officials," Lynch said. "I know for a fact that legislators look at each and every one of these things that's coming from their localities.
"The more pressure that's put on them, the quicker they'll [pass a budget]," Lynch added.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org