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Mecklenburg County budget proposal tops $104 million / May 09, 2018
The Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors has unveiled a $104.8 million draft operating budget with more than $50 million set aside for the operation of Mecklenburg County Public Schools.

Supervisors agreed to advertise the draft budget in advance of a May 16 public hearing at 7 p.m. in Boydton to hear citizen comment on the package. Separately, the board will host a Monday, May 14 public hearing on a proposed 1-cent increase in the county’s real estate tax rate.

Both hearings will take place in the Board of Supervisors meeting room in the Goode Building at 350 Washington Street, Boydton.

The draft budget, approved at a May 1 meeting of the supervisors’ budget and finance committee, calls for additional capital spending of $63.7 million, of which nearly $51 million is for maintenance and upgrades to existing school facilities or construction of the new consolidated high and middle school complex. The money would come from dedicated revenues outside of the regular operating budget.

With the capital spending included, the total budget package comes to $168,444,884. The budget covers the 2018-19 fiscal year which runs from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019.

For the most part, county government departments and agencies will see little change in their funding levels from the current year. The major exceptions are the Sheriff’s Office, the library, economic development office and local airports.

With the exception of the Sheriff’s Office employees, county staff are not slated to receive a pay raise for the coming year. According to County Administrator Wayne Carter, starting salaries at the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office are among the lowest for law enforcement officers in the area. As a result, Sheriff Bobby Hawkins said his department is losing staff to better paying jobs with the Virginia State Police and even some town police departments.

To stem the loss of qualified personnel, the budget and finance committee is recommending that the Sheriff’s Office receive a nearly $400,000 increase in funding over current year levels, from $4.998 million to $5.386 million. The money will raise pay for sheriff’s deputies to put salaries on par with law enforcement officers who have similar years of experience and work for other area departments.

The budget for the Mecklenburg County Library is set to increase by nearly $50,000 over last year, in part because the county has hired a full-time director for the library system. The budget for economic development is set to rise by more than $160,000 to cover Mecklenburg County’s share of the cost of developing a wetlands bank at the Mid-Atlantic Advanced Manufacturing Center in Greensville County. The wetlands bank is being developed on land purchased by the Regional Industrial Facilities Authority, of which Mecklenburg County is a member.

The nearly $64,000 increase in airport funding is earmarked for the Lake Country Regional Airport in Clarksville, which is seeking an outside grant to repair the runways. The grant would cover 80 percent of the cost associated with the repairs, while the county would provide a qualifying 20 percent match. “If the airport does not get the grant then the county will not spend the $64,000,” said Carter.

Local funding for the school operating budget is set to rise by more than $2 million to cover the debt service on the $50 million loan the county has taken out for construction of the new consolidated school campus. In addition, the budget sets aside $962,000 for maintenance and upgrades to the four elementary schools, for a new radio system for schools and buses, and for new electronic equipment for the schools such as Promethean boards.

For the second year in a row, the county health department has been targeted for a reduction in local funding. This year’s budget proposes a 10 percent funding cutback. Carter recommended the decrease in funding for the same reason as last year — environmental specialists who fail in timely fashion to process requests from contractors to test water pressure on building lots.

However, members of the budget and finance committee chose to spare the department after hearing from District Director Scott Spillman, who shared a list of improvements he’s implemented in the department over the past year.

Board chairman Glenn Barbour, though not a member of the budget and finance committee, sat in on the budget presentation. He called Spillman’s presentation “sincere” and wondered how many of the complaints from contractors were due to their impatience. He encouraged the committee to approve “flat funding” for the health department, restoring the level of local funding to $217,509, compared to the $195,759 recommended by Carter.

One area where funding levels are likely to fall is for the Meherrin River Regional Jail. Mecklenburg County’s share of costs for the regional jail dropped by nearly $400,000, in part because the number of county inmates housed in the facility has not increased as significantly as in Brunswick and Dinwiddie counties, the two counties that share the regional jail with Mecklenburg.

As part of the budget presentation, Carter shared the details of a proposed five-year capital improvement plan. This year, Mecklenburg County spent $6.3 million on road improvements, upgrades to the county’s communication equipment, information technology upgrades and the construction of a new shell building in the Roanoke River Regional Industrial Park in Brodnax.

In fiscal year 2019, Carter recommends spending another $6.2 million on trucks for the landfill and animal control, upgrades to the county computers and phones system, repairs to Propst Road and U.S. 58 at the intersection of Herbert Drive and Prison Road, expansion of the parking lot at the Hudgins Court Complex, upgrades to the Ridge Road water tank and construction of a waste disposal convenience center in Clarksville. He also anticipates spending another $50 million on school construction for the consolidated high and middle school complex.

In 2020, Carter recommends spending another $50 million on school construction, demolishing Buckhorn Elementary School, purchasing a new truck and roll off containers for the landfill, additional computer upgrades and implementing a Text to 911 system, for a total amount of $51.195 million.

In 2021, he is proposing repairs to Old Cox Road from Ridge Road back to State Route 92, and the purchase of a third new landfill truck, at a total cost of $4.5 million. In 2023, Carter is recommending that the county start making major updates to the elementary schools, spending $10 million.

On the question of taxes, the Board of Supervisors is proposing to leave the real estate tax rate at its current level of 42 cents per $100 in value, but because county property values have risen overall in the latest reassessment, this translates into a higher effective tax rate. To maintain a “revenue neutral” tax — one that brings in the same amount of overall revenue – the supervisors would have to lower the real estate rate to 41 cents per $100.

Supervisors have proposed the tax increase as a means to generate revenue for the upcoming school construction project. Carter told supervisors during Thursday’s budget and finance committee meeting that should the board lower the real estate tax rate, the county will likely face a $400,000 decrease in revenue for budget priorities in the coming year.

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