Amherst County supervisors approved the county’s fiscal year 2020 budget that includes a 3% pay hike for county workers and finalizes a 5% raise for the Amherst school system’s employees.
The board of supervisors voted 3-1 during its May 7 meeting to adopt the budget’s $42.5 million general fund. The total budget is a $1.1 million decrease, or 2.5%, from the current fiscal year due to a reduced investment in the county’s capital improvement plan and drawing less from reserves, according to County Administrator Dean Rodgers’ written budget summary.
Supervisor David Pugh opposed the 2019-20 general fund because of an additional position each in the information technology department and the clerk of circuit court office and bringing a part-time position in the department of human resources to full time. Pugh said he doesn’t support adding those recurring expenses.
“…There’s an old saying, ‘If a man digs a pit for himself, he will surely fall in,’ and that’s [where] I think we’re going here,” Pugh said.
The board decided unanimously in other votes to pass the $1.6 million solid waste fund, the $765,000 capital improvement plan and the Amherst County Public Schools’ $49 million budget, a $2 million increase anchored by a jump in student enrollment and more state money.
Supervisor Kenneth Campbell was absent but indicated he was in support of adopting the budget, according to Rodgers. The county didn’t pass any tax increases but Rodgers has said revenues are not keeping pace with costs of running county operations and he is expects to recommend a real estate tax increase in 2020.
Pugh said talks of a possible tax increase next year worries him.
The county contributed $13.9 million to the school division, which is level from the current fiscal year, and funded a replacement ambulance and fire truck for the public safety department. The fiscal plan also includes a project to begin restoration of a wooded trestle bridge from Percival’s Island in Lynchburg into Amherst County and a new playground will be installed at Monacan Park in Madison Heights.
Savings from switching health insurance providers, which drew public opposition and concern from about a dozen county employees, provided money for the county pay raise. The salary bump for the county and school system does not apply to supervisors or school board members.
The county has seen a decline in the unemployment rate from 6.7% in 2012 to 2.7% in December 2018, which is slightly higher than the state average of 2.6% that same month, according to Rodgers.
“It continues to be our main focus of effort to counter a persistent decline in new business startups within Amherst County,” Rodgers wrote in the summary.
In 2018 the county saw improvement in that area with 43 new businesses, up from 31 in the previous year, the summary states. Growth in the overall economy has increased turnover for the county and most county salaries are now lagging behind market averages, according to Rodgers. A recent study shows 50 county positions are below market in pay and more than $450,000 is needed to bring them in line where they should be, he wrote.
Replacing aging equipment is the largest repeating drain on the county’s general fund for unobligated spending, according to Rodgers.
“The burden of taxes and fees is a constant factor in evaluating budget priorities,” Rodgers said in the written outline. “Economic development is my primary focus. If businesses can prosper in Amherst County, our tax revenue will grow and the tax burden on individual property owners will not have to be increased.”
Rodgers said three and a half positions he feels are needed were not funded in the upcoming fiscal year that starts July 1. New financial software that he said would prove helpful for multiple county departments, the school system and the Amherst County Service Authority also did not get funded in the upcoming CIP, he noted.
The board’s real estate tax rate is 61 cents per $100 of assessed value. The last increase, a 5-cent bump, was passed in 2016.
County resident Bill Peters said during last week’s meeting the county needs to properly gauge all other revenue streams before considering tax increases to real estate or personal property.
“They really bother us,” Peters said. “We’re not going to carry the whole burden anymore.”
Rodgers recently said the countywide property reassessment set to take effect next year is expected to generate as much as a 3% increase overall in property values, which could lead to about $300,000 to $325,000 in added revenue. He has said that mark would fall shy of fixing the county’s salary adjustment needs.