Shenandoah County board OKs budget

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County leaders adopted next year’s budget Tuesday after an often heated debate over spending local money.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-2 at its regular meeting on a motion to approve an ordinance adopting the fiscal 2016 budget and to appropriate the funds for spending. The total budget of $109.01 million includes a $61.7 million of local money and $47.3 million from other sources.

Chairman David Ferguson, Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley and Supervisors Steve Baker and John R. “Dick” Neese voted in favor of the budget. Supervisors Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz voted against the motion.

Bailey and Shruntz in separate statements blasted the financial plan and spending on government and schools.

“The overextended use of undesignated [savings] funds to pay for the jail debt, which is $994,000 this year alone, our portion, and additional county positions is not what these funds are recommended to be used for,” Bailey said. “This irresponsible growing of government will only set up another showdown during next year’s budget deliberations.”

Bailey then criticized the School Board and Superintendent Jeremy Raley for letting maintenance needs go unchecked and then coming to the county for money.

Shruntz said priorities have been misplaced.

“What is being proposed here tonight is using county savings to pay for past, exorbitant construction and building debt,” Shruntz said.

Shruntz referred to the board’s choice, as recommended by Ferguson, to use unrestricted, county savings to balance the budget. Shruntz criticized Raley and the School Board for promoting “an unsustainable level of … operational spending while school maintenance is placed on the back burner.”

Ferguson then put Shruntz on the spot by asking her the county’s amount of debt for the past several years. Shruntz said she did not have those amounts.

“To make a comment that our debt service is spiraling out of control because of this building is not an educated statement if you don’t know what the debt is,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson later pointed out that the county’s debt has dropped from $60.48 million in 2003 to $55.75 million in 2014. Ferguson said the debt includes money borrowed for many of the county’s large projects.

“I would hate to think that the citizens of Shenandoah County, three years from now, four years from now, five years from now, would be saddled with building that courthouse, with building a [Department of Social Services] building, with building a regional jail, and then now possibly a school,” Ferguson said.

“We did saddle them because we didn’t have to build half of those buildings,” Bailey rebutted. “You miss the point every time.”

Ferguson had to break up a heated argument between Bailey and Helsley.

When Ferguson called for a vote on the motion, County Attorney J. Jay Litten pointed out that given a lack of unanimous support the chairman should call for the question only after 30 minutes of debate have passed and that every member has had a chance to comment. Ferguson then asked if anyone else wanted to make a comment on the motion “in a positive” way. Bailey chimed in to say: “you can’t dictate how we speak, sir.”

“That’s pretty obvious,” Ferguson said.

The $61.7 million is approximately $1.03 million less than what the board had agreed upon at their last work session. When the board began to discuss the proposed budget at the meeting, Helsley suggested that members review the appropriation of asset forfeiture funds as requested by Sheriff Timothy Carter. Such funds come from assets seized as a result of operations jointly carried out by the Sheriff’s Office and federal law enforcement agencies.

But Helsley pointed out that Carter and the county should look at ways to hang on to asset forfeiture funds if the plans are to use that money to build a new headquarters for the sheriff’s office. The fund has $3.5 million but will be reduced by appropriating the sheriff’s requests.

Bailey asked Helsley if he had talked to Carter about the proposal to remove some of the sheriff’s requests from the list. Helsley said he had not. Bailey then suggested that he or the board talk to Carter about the recommendations.

“You do not communicate with him and that’s fine, that’s your way,” Bailey said.

Bailey pointed out that asset forfeiture funds do not come from taxpayers. Ferguson argued that the law-enforcement operations that lead to seized assets do cost taxpayer dollars.

Ferguson said the board, throughout its work on the budget, does not always ask a department representative to come back before the members when they consider changing their spending request.

As part of the action to adopt the budget, the board agreed to revisit Carter’s request for asset forfeiture funds at a later date.

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