March 12, 2014
In less than a month, the public will have a chance to weigh in on the proposed budget and advertised tax rate for Albemarle County.
On Wednesday evening, supervisors approved a proposed budget for next fiscal year.
The budget includes some adjustments to the county executive's recommended $349.3 million budget, including increasing the recommended general fund expenditures by about $4 million.
Supervisors would like to add two more county police officers, allocate more money to public transportation, and give schools an additional $3.4 million to help close their budget shortfall, among other budget adjustments.
Wednesday's vote does not lock them into any decision. They can have another budget work session to discuss any possible changes before adoption in April.
But it does give county residents a base point to offer feedback at an upcoming public hearing on the proposed budget and advertised tax rate.
Last week, supervisors voted to advertise the tax rate at 80.8 cents per $100 of assessed value. That's four cents higher than last year.
Supervisors say if they weren't facing state and federal mandates, residents likely wouldn't be facing a tax rate increase this budget cycle.
"There are three things that are completely out of our control," said supervisor Brad Sheffield. "If we didn't have the VRS impact and the shortage from the state on school funding and then, additionally, the stormwater management that's required by the federal government, I don't think we'd be even talking about a tax rate increase."
A major driving factor in the budget cycle is funding the schools. Albemarle County Public Schools are facing a nearly $7 million budget shortfall. The proposed budget and advertised tax rate would help bridge the gap, but would still leave the schools $2.4 million short.
That's about the same amount the schools are required to contribute as a state mandated increase to the Virginia Retirement System.
In the last three years, the increase has been nearly $10 million.
"Communities are just really struggling right now to make ends meet as far as budgets because of these mandates," said supervisor Diantha McKeel.
On Wednesday, supervisors asked staff to set up a meeting with state legislators to discuss how the mandates are impacting the budget process and see if there is a way to tier the mandates as well as come up with a sustainable funding model for education.
"One of the goals of trying to meet with the state legislators is trying to get them to understand that a big hit like this really does create a big financial bind that we are in right now," said Sheffield.
Phil Giaramita, strategic communications officer for Albemarle County Schools, says the school system doesn't hear what the increase will be until November or December. Because it's so late in the budget season, it makes planning for the state mandate more difficult.
Sheffield and McKeel agree that funding the schools has been the biggest impact of this budget process.
Since voting to advertise a tax rate last week, they both say they've heard feedback for and against the proposal.
They will hear from even more residents at a public hearing on the proposed budget and advertised rate scheduled for April 8.
Supervisors are expected to adopt a budget and set the tax rate April 15.