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Final version of Halifax County budget provides more cash for schools, courthouse, IDA

SoVaNow.com / May 23, 2013
After months of discussion and debate, Halifax County finally has a new budget.

By a 6-2 roll call vote, the Board of Supervisors on Monday approved final changes to the $87.2 million budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Only ED-3 supervisor William I. Fitzgerald and ED-5 supervisor Barry Bank opposed the final version.

The updated budget provides more money for the schools — $110,000 on top of the previous amount approved by the board — plus funding for the courthouse, the sheriff’s office relocation, fairgrounds redevelopment and the Halifax County IDA.

The money became available after county administrative staff identified $593,000 that was free to use in the budget. It consists of unexpected savings in health care costs and the operation of the Blue Ridge Regional Jail as well as higher sales tax revenues.

Two board members — Doug Bowman, chair of the finance committee, and Barry Bank — offered competing ideas for how to apply the $593,000 to the budget. Bowman’s recommendation, which he termed a “budget compromise,” was the one that passed.

After the board’s earlier decision to cut increases to business license fees by 50 percent, Bowman’s budget included an amount of $509,500 to apply to spending needs. Of that amount he suggested that $200,000 should be put in reserve to pay for the relocation of the Sheriff’s Department and expenses related to the renovation of the Halifax Courthouse.

His proposal to add $110,000 more to school budget was the second largest use of the funding, followed by:

$50,000 for engineering studies for water and sewer for the Halifax County fairgrounds

$40,000 for the IDA

$26,000 for a second set of protective equipment for local fire departments

$50,000 to finance a new front end loader for the Public Works Department.

The remaining $33,5000 was divided up as follows: $7,500 for the YMCA, $1,900 for Roanoke River Rails to Trails, $3,200 for Chamber of Commerce dues, $7,000 for the South Boston-Halifax County Museum and $10,000 for the Longwood Small Business Development Center.

His motion was seconded by ED-1 supervisor J. T. Davis and passed on a 5-3 vote with Bank, Fitzgerald and ED-8 supervisor Bryant Claiborne opposing it.

Bank then presented a substitute motion for a counter budget proposal, which called for a further reduction of $100,000 in county funding to the IDA. Bank said he could not understand how supervisors could give more money to the IDA when other agencies and departments got level funding or reductions.

He pointed to demographic data that show a decline in the size of the county’s work force as well as in its school population. He also pointed to the hourly pay rate of employees at Riverstone Technology Center, saying it fell below the local hourly wage range, and added that the county does not have a sufficiently skilled workforce to fill the higher paying jobs the Energy Center might offer.

Cutting the IDA budget, Bank said, would “provide an opportunity for the county to let the IDA become an independent agency.”

After subtracting the $100,000 from the IDA, as he proposed, Bank said there would be $609,500 available in the budget to use. He suggested reserving $150,000 for the relocation of the Sheriff’s Department and another $233,5000 for courthouse renovation expenses. Other items in his proposal included $50,000 for the fairgrounds engineering study, $26,000 for protective equipment for the firefighters, $50,000 for the front end loader and $100,000 for the schools.

Bank’s motion died for the lack of a second.

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