County spending is unsustainable

While Amherst’s citizens have paid little attention to the spending fever of county government, the next budget year will mark the fourth consecutive year of deficit spending that exceeds $1 million for that year. In fact, given additional spending of more than $500,000 above the budgeted deficit of about $2 million for the current budget year and a projected deficit of about $1 million for the next fiscal year (which recent years have shown will also be exceeded), Amherst County is on track to spend $7 million more than it received in tax revenue for the four-year period ending with the FY2020 budget year. Let that sink in — deficit spending of $7 million over a four-year period! For those who are tempted to think that much of this deficit spending likely went to Amherst County Public Schools, it did not. In fact, none of it went to either capital projects or the annual operating budget for Amherst County Public Schools.

Fortunately, previous boards of supervisors were more frugal than the current board and built up a large savings. This savings is being quickly drained away.

There are basically three options to address the financial wreck that is fast approaching.

» Greater revenues from an expansion of the tax base.

» A reduction of spending by county government.

» Higher taxes for current taxpayers.

As the county finance director informed the Board of Supervisors this year, revenue continues to be essentially flat. Unfortunately, there is little hope for an expansion of the tax base in the present or in the foreseeable future despite the more than $1 million in taxpayer funds that has been given to the Economic Development Authority in the last three years to generate growth in Amherst. So, while neighboring localities such as Campbell County and Bedford County benefit from increased tax revenue each year due to growth, Amherst does not.

This lack of growth in tax revenue appears to be no concern as Amherst County continues adding employees with another three positions added this year. Given 10 to 15 positions have been added by county government in just the last four years, it appears the only growth industry in Amherst County is county government. With this level of spending and with the additional spending the county administrator has already suggested for future budget years, a reduction in spending by county government would have to be dramatic to stave off the third option — higher taxes for current taxpayers.

Amherst residents need to understand that a large tax rate increase will be necessary merely to balance current budgets where deficits now routinely exceed $1 million annually. Taxpayers will also be asked to accept additional taxes to allow spending for more county employees, the higher pay the county administrator proposes to give county employees, and other increases in costs that occur — such as higher health insurance costs when the savings generated this year (which has already been spent as though it were a permanent savings) — cannot be duplicated in future years. Further, in a few years when the landfill “savings” fails to materialize, Amherst taxpayers will be informed that the cost of this service has increased too and that a tax increase is necessary because of these higher costs.

Although the county administrator made passing comments during the most recent budget season about potential higher tax rates for next year, there continues to be no discussion about this sharp change in direction from a county that believes in conservative principles of fiscal responsibility and a limited, efficient and effective government to a county that believes in much greater government spending and a bigger government that necessarily will have to collect much more taxes from its citizens. When our schools need additional funding in the future, where will the money come from? What impact will having tax rates significantly higher than Campbell County and Bedford County have on efforts to generate economic growth in Amherst County, on efforts to attract more families to Amherst? How will higher taxes affect those who live on fixed incomes and the large number of citizens who already have difficulty paying for basic living expenses for themselves and their families? The time is getting late for the people of Amherst to recognize what is happening and to get involved.

ALAN WOOD

Madison Heights

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