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Mecklenburg school, county staff set to get 4.5 percent raises / May 03, 2017
Mecklenburg school and county government employees are set to receive a nearly 4.5 percent pay raise starting in July, based on a $100.6 million operating budget unveiled Monday night by members of the Board of Supervisors.

The budget anticipates $14 million in additional spending from dedicated revenues, bringing the total package to $114,138,745. The budget covers the 2018 fiscal year period from July 1, to the end of June 2018.

Most county offices will see little change in funding levels from the current budget. Two major exceptions are the school division — which is in line to receive $1.25 million in additional local funding — and first responder units, which will receive a bump of nearly $210,000 for new radio equipment.

Overall, spending is up by $3 million over the current year, but the proposed budget calls for no new taxes.

The draft budget was discussed Monday by members of the Board of Supervisors’ budget and finance committee.

In addition to the $1.25 million the school division is expected to get for pay raises, $380,000 is proposed in capital spending for upgrades to the schools. That sum will purchase new chillers, security systems and promethean boards for the elementary schools. An additional $400,000 left over in the school budget from FY2017 will be reallocated to improve the traffic flow at South Hill Elementary School, purchase supplies in bulk, refinish gymnasium floors at the high schools, cover asbestos flooring at the elementary schools with commercial grade vinyl, upgrade the fire alarm system at South Hill Elementary, pump out septic and grease tanks at schools, and purchase a new dump trailer.

The $1.25 million for salaries will fund a 4 percent pay raise for all school employees, not solely teachers. Additionally, the state has promised funding for a 2 percent salary bump for SOQ [Standards of Quality] personnel in all Virginia school divisions. County Administrator Wayne Carter said those state funds would be divvied up for among teachers — who are deemed SOQ personnel — and all other non-SOQ staff to provide all employees with an additional salary bump of about four-tenths of a percent.

The county health department was targeted for a 20 percent cut in local funding for its budget, but supervisors spared the department after the new health district director Scott Spillmann pleaded his case. “I know we’ve made mistakes,” said Spillmann repeatedly while beseeching supervisors to give him more time to improve services.

County Administrator Carter said his goal was to send a message to the health department. “You’re not providing us [Mecklenburg County] with the services required.” Among their responsibilities, Environmental Health Specialists working in the department are tasked with performing on-site water and sewage tests ahead of new building construction.

“If a 20 percent [threat of a cut] doesn’t [improve services],” Carter promised, “next year it will be more.”

For too many years, Carter told Spillmann, health department personnel have been slow to complete expected tasks, or have failed or refused to return phone calls, or have not prepared reports that building contractors need to move forward with the permitting process. Carter said many of the complaints have stemmed from environmental specialists shirking one of their main duties: Instead of testing for water pressure on building lots, they tell the contractor to hire a soil scientist to perform the perc test at a cost of $1,000 or more.

Spillmann agreed that the response time from environmental health specialists “needs to be shored up.” He said the problem was due, in part, to lack of staff. He said the office requires an additional environmental health specialist. They’ve recently hired an epidemiologist and a public health nurse, he said, but a second nurse is needed.

Despite Spillman’s repeated promises to address complaints, Finance Committee Chair Gregg Gordon voiced skepticism. “What was the problem in the past, and if the same people are still in place, how has or will the problem be resolved?” Gordon asked.

In the end, committee members relented and agreed to recommend the Health Department budget be restored to the same funding levels as in FY2017, to just over $217,000.

With the elimination of vehicle decals, County Treasurer Sandra Langford reduced her overall budget by $80,000.

Juvenile and Domestic Court expenses are up $44,000, due to the increase number of children monitored with ankle bracelets. The economic development budget is up about $20,000 over the current year, Carter explained, to cover the cost of wetland improvement projects, which he said would come back to the County in tax revenues — meals and lodging, and sales taxes paid by visitors to the area.

The Lake Country Regional Airport in Clarksville is getting an additional $25,000 for engineering studies. These are needed before the airport can apply for loans to cover improvements to runways and hangers.

As part of this year’s budget presentation, Carter presented a proposed five-year capital improvement plan for Mecklenburg County.

In year one, FY2018, the county will spend $6.3 million: $625,000 for new communication towers to improve radio transmission among first responders, $3.1 million on upgrades to Ridge Road, $1.7 million for a new shell building in the Roanoke River Regional Industrial Park in Brodnax, $100,000 to expand the parking lot at the Hudgins Court Complex, $100,000 for engineering studies for a new convenience center near Clarksville, $35,000 for a new truck for the building inspector’s department, $200,000 on IT upgrades and $380,000 for school facilities.

The next year, the county will spend about $3 million on parking lots and roads and $100 million for a new consolidated high school/middle school complex. More road repair work is slated for FY2020. By 2022, it will be spend $30 million on upgrades to the elementary schools.

Carter said of the $147 million in capital improvements planned over the next five years, $130 million of that will be for schools.

“In the spirit of transparency,” Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols gave members of the finance committee a heads-up about additional education-related expenses he foresees coming in the next year or two for which he will seek funding.

As the local ADA (average daily attendance) continues to decline in Mecklenburg County — as it does it other rural counties — Nichols expects to receive fewer federal and state dollars. At the same time, he said, “There are additional positions in the 2017-18 budget that are very important: The federal government requires a new support position for our growing ESL population, and Park View Middle School requires a new physical education teacher because of increased population.”

He said the division has been told by administrators at the community college that SVCC will reduce its reimbursement for its associate degree program. “We anticipate increased cost in the near future for Dual Enrollment academic cases that lead to the community college’s academic Associate Degree option.”

One way he plans to ward off these cost increases is by instituting an AP program. “We are working to create a strong Advanced Placement program for our students seeking careers that require a university degree. The AP classes are recognized universally as being the most rigorous preparation for success in college, yet will cost the students, parents and the school division less money,” said Nichols.

There is an initial extra cost related to getting teachers trained to teach the AP curriculum.

As the school division attempts to rebuild its career and technical education programs, which Nichols said have been cut dramatically over the past 20 years, he says there is a need to hire new CTE teachers and develop additional dual enrollment programs — ones that lead to credentials, not associate degrees. These cost money, Nichols observed.

None of the committee members recommended changes or additions to the School Board’s proposed budget. It remains at $47,091,226.

Another work session on the county budget is planned for Monday, ahead of the regular monthly meeting of the Board of Supervisors. Carter said he would like the supervisors to approve the final budget by the end of May.

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