Shenandoah County facing budget gap

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County would need to raise taxes or cut spending to plug a $3.7-million hole in next year’s budget.

County Administrator Mary Beth Price presented a proposed budget for fiscal 2016 to the Board of Supervisors during a work session Tuesday. Data showed the county expects to collect approximately $60.7 million in revenue next year. However, that amount falls short of the $64.42 million the county would spend that period, according to Price’s proposal.

Each penny of the real estate tax rate of 57 cents per $100 of assessed value generates $449,000 in revenue. Based on that calculation, the county would need to increase the tax rate by slightly more than 8 cents to generate the $3.71 million needed to balance the budget.

Price did not recommend a tax rate increase in her presentation. The board will discuss and consider ways to balance the proposed budget, through spending cuts and tax increases, over the next few weeks.

County departments had submitted $65.8 million in requests — an increase of $8.03 million in spending over $57.77 million in the fiscal 2015 budget or nearly 14 percent. Price and members of the administrative budget team reduced the requests by $1.38 million to $64.42 million — 11.5 percent over the fiscal 2015 budget. The reduction did not affect the proposed $27.68 million in local education funding — an increase of $2.72 million. Of the $27.68 million, Superintendent Jeremy Raley is requesting $26.84 million for operational funding and $797,788 to cover urgent capital needs. Education funding also includes the county’s $45,511 contribution to Lord Fairfax Community College.

More than 10 departments requested more employees in fiscal 2016, and that would cost the county an additional $723,540. Price recommended that the budget include $124,395 to cover an assistant registrar for the voter registration office, an archivist for the county library, a marketing and public relations assistant for the Department of Tourism and a family services specialist in the Department of Social Services. Price also recommends adding a victim witness coordinator, the cost of which would be covered by a grant.

Merit pay increases based on employee performance in a calendar year would go into effect Jan. 1 and cost the county $91,100, according to Price’s presentation. State-supported employees such as those in the constitutional offices, the general registrar or on electoral boards can expect a 2 percent salary increase effective Sept. 1 at no cost to the county.

Price also recommends the county enhance hazardous duty coverage with the Virginia Retirement System that applies to a full-time, sworn sheriff and deputy sheriff as well as firefighters and emergency medical technicians. The increase would cost the county an additional $69,000. The towns of Front Royal, Stephens City and Woodstock, and the counties of Frederick, as well as the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail, have enhanced hazardous duty coverage for these employees.

The county can expect to see its share of the cost to pay off the loan to build the RSW Regional Jail increase from $182,693 to $994,023 in fiscal 2016. The county budgeted $1.06 million to cover the local share of operating the jail. Price noted that this cost is less than the $1.85 million the county budgeted in fiscal 2014 to run the local jail, using a consultant’s estimate calculated in 2013. However, the county will see its share of the operational costs increase to $1.57 million in fiscal 2016, as indicated by Price’s proposed budget.

The county has increased what it gives the public school system since fiscal 2011. Price’s proposed budget would increase the local funding for the school system from $24.46 million to $26.84 million, excluding money for capital projects.

Revenue projections for fiscal 2016 call for an increase from $57.77 million to $60.7 million, or about 5 percent. Of that revenue, $48.32 million would come from local sources such as property taxes and permit fees.

The county will receive more than $7.02 million from the state — a 4.13 percent increase in what the legislature allocated for this fiscal year. The county will receive $402,067 from federal sources, or 58.6 percent more than in this period.

Price also reported on the estimated revenue the county will collect from Charterhouse School, which operates in the former Edinburg School. The county is expected to see a net gain of $209,725 over five years. However, the county will spend $5,437 more than it will collect in fiscal 2016, according to Price’s report. But the number of students enrolled at the school continues to grow. As such, the county should see collections increase in fiscal 2017 and 2018 if the number of students grows as predicted.

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