The Nelson County Board of Supervisors on May 12 signed off on a budget to take into a public hearing scheduled for June 9.
The county is looking at a budget of $36.9 million for fiscal year 2021, with many departments and agencies proposed to be level funded from fiscal year 2020.
The budget set for the public hearing also does not include any compensation increases for county employees other than some required benefit increases. The board was considering a 3% pay raise for employees but the measure was affected by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Additional expenditure reductions since the last budget work session in April put the total amount of unallocated funds for fiscal year 2021 at just less than $1.01 million.
During the May 12 meeting, the board decided to proceed to the public hearing with a proposal from the county to level fund Nelson County Public Schools for the next fiscal year, which equals $14.9 million plus an additional $164,935 for the School Nursing Program.
The level fund amount, according to Director of Finance and Human Resources Candy McGarry, does not include an additional $488,610, a number that covers losses in state funding, required benefit increases and an optional part time driver’s education position.
Nelson County Public Schools officials warned during a Thursday school board meeting that cuts could be on the horizon for both positions and programs should schools be level funded.
Assistant Superintendent Shannon Irvin said level funding from last year combined with estimated revenue loss from both sales tax and lottery sales could result in a shortfall of hundreds of thousands of dollars, estimating a deficit of as much as $1 million, if not more.
“You don’t get a million dollars from little 10-, 20-thousand-dollar-little things, you get it by people and you get it by programs,” Superintendent Martha Eagle said of potential cuts during the Thursday school board meeting.
The division’s original funding request was $851,926 in order to cover a funding shortfall which did include funds for the school nursing program. McGary said the original total for the schools would have been about $15.62 million.
“Budgets are merely plans. Plans for what we want our schools to look like and how it is to function in our community. The budget should reflect the goals of the board and the needs of our community,” Irvin said in prepared remarks she made to board members.
However, with a budget mostly tied up to salary and benefits, Irvin reasoned cuts would come in the form of positions and programs for the school division.
“The questions we must ask ourselves is where could reductions be made that still allow us to offer high quality programs to our students … no one likes to make these choices,” Irvin said, making note these decisions will be difficult for the board to make.
South District School Board member Ceaser Perkins said potential cuts would not be the result of favoritism.
“No one program is more important than the other. So when we make cuts it’s not because of the way we structure things, it’s not because we’re trying to hurt any one program, it’s just for the good of the cause,” he said during the meeting.
Having to approve their own budget later in June, Eagle said for now, school board members should be focused on the upcoming public hearing regarding the county’s budget.
“Ultimately your next step right now is communication with our board of supervisors as far as what impacts we’re going to see if we are level funded and then what we need to do to plan for both the June 9 board of supervisors meeting ... and what cuts we’re going to have to plan on,” Eagle said to school board members.
Both Irvin and Eagle said there are still several unknowns to date, a theme seen throughout the budget season for Nelson County.
This includes the exact loss of sales tax revenue and lottery sales — both of which the division is estimating at 25%, but could potentially be much lower or higher — continued declining enrollment and any additional federal funds made available because of COVID-19.
“There’s so many unknowns with the budget … we wanted to make you aware of the magnitude of the problem we could be facing if the economy doesn’t rebound quickly,” Irvin said.
Eagle also said the division has put off on hiring some currently unfilled positions until more information regarding some of the budgetary unknowns becomes available. Board members did, however, unanimously approved a motion to send out contracts for the upcoming year during the Thursday meeting.
The 7 p.m. public hearing is scheduled for June 9 at the Nelson Courthouse in Lovingston following a regular board meeting that same day.
According to a tentative budget calendar, the board of supervisors must adopt the budget for fiscal year 2021 by the end of June.
County Administrator Steve Carter said there has been no provision to extend the deadline for approval of local budgets in light of COVID-19.
Nick Cropper covers Nelson County. Reach him at (434) 385-5522.