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Halifax supervisors tee up school borrowing of $135 million, employee pay raises

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Mecklenburg supes get draft budget plan for $240.5 million, but no tax hike / May 05, 2021
A draft budget of $240.53 million for Mecklenburg County local government in the coming year comes with no tax hikes, despite increased spending of $25 million over the current budget.

County Administrator Wayne Carter presented the FY 2021-22 budget package to the Board of Supervisors on Monday night at their regular monthly meeting. The county budget must be approved in time to go in effect on July 1, the start of the 2021-22 fiscal year.

The draft budget proposal tops out at $240,530,044, which includes $142,422,196 in general fund items and another $98,107,848 in capital and other planned expenditures. The single largest category is school spending, which comes in at $63,427,628. The school budget consists of federal, state and local dollars, and the proposed version would mark a nearly $6 million increase over the current budget of $57,656,068.

Carter said salary increases for staff and insurance adjustments have driven up overall spending over the current year. Most employees, including school employees, will receive a five percent bump in salary. Raises for the Sheriff’s Office could be higher as Mecklenburg works to stay competitive with salaries paid to law enforcement in surrounding counties.

The starting salary for deputies is moving up from $34,000 to $40,000 per year. The annual pay will still lag behind the $46,500 that Brunswick County pays to its starting deputies, but it’s a start, Carter said.

Supervisor Charles Jones asked if Mecklenburg County was having problems recruiting or retaining deputies. He was told “no” by Sheriff Bobby Hawkins. Hawkins credited the county with keeping salaries competitive as the reason for their recruitment and retention success.

Employees who earn job-related certifications will also see extra money in their pay, above the baseline five percent raise. For the most part, these staffers work for the County Treasurer, Commissioner of Revenue, Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office and the court system. While the Voter Registrar was one who got an extra salary bump, Carter said that increase will be reimbursed to the county by the State of Virginia.

Carter said fire and rescue services had asked the county to fund a new position, an emergency services coordinator. Carter said that was not done because the county has no space in its current office building to house such a new position. Carter said he hopes to create the position in the FY 2023 budget, and has included the cost of a car for the employee as part of the FY2023 capital budget.

Currently, Mecklenburg’s four rescue squads — Boydton, South Hill, Chase City and Mecklenburg (Clarksville) — receive $150,000 per year from the county budget. Carter is recommending that be increased to $200,000 each for FY2022, a $50,000 increase. He is also recommending the county give the Lake Gaston Rescue Squad an extra $10,000, increasing the annual allocation from $20,000 to $30,000.

The budget for the Meherrin River Regional Jail, which the county shares with Brunswick and Dinwiddie counties, jumped by $110,000 to $3.91 million to cover Mecklenburg’s share of jail operating expenses. Carter said most of the increase was tied to salary increases for jail employees and some capital improvements needed at the jail sites in Alberta and Boydton.

Carter said the budgeted amount does not include the $600,000 he expects Mecklenburg County will have to pay as “true up” — a payment made after closing out the current fiscal year budget to adjust for any difference between the amount of money paid by the county for its share of operating expenses and its actual share. Since inmates from Mecklenburg County occupy nearly 50 percent of the beds at the regional jail, the county’s share of the operating costs has risen accordingly.

The building inspection budget, which comes in at $388,532 includes the salary and expenses for one additional inspector in the department.

Speaking on the school division budget, Carter said the School Board has asked the Board of Supervisors to increase its local match by $3.268 million. Instead, he recommended an increase of only $2.5 million and recommended against funding four new positions that are being sought by trustees. The positions include two principals — one each for the new consolidated high and middle schools — an ag-science coordinator and a scheduling specialist.

Carter said these positions would be an additional cost for only one year. Once the schools are consolidated, MCPS will be eliminating four current principal slots — two at the high school and two at the middle school -— as well as one or more ag positions.

Carter explained that a portion of the $10.8 million in federal stimulus money the school division is set to receive could be used to pay for these four slots.

Supervisor David Brankley sought assurances from Carter that the stimulus money the school division would be receiving under the CARES Act can be used to pay for new staff positions in the school division.

“I just want to say I would like to see if that can happen. The process [of transitioning to a new consolidated school and staff] needs to start over there right quick,” Brankley said.

“I think it can. That’s my understanding that new positions can be paid for out of existing CARES funds,” Carter replied.

The school division also is asking for money for step increases for school employees and another three percent in salary increase. Instead, Carter said he recommended a five percent salary bump for all school employees.

The discussion of the school budget prompted Charles Jones to ask about the soon-to-be abandoned high school and middle school buildings. Carter said he expected the division to return the middle schools to the county “fairly quickly” once students move into the new site, after which the County will likely demolish those buildings.

He said Superintendent Nichols has expressed a desire to keep the high school buildings operational as these will be used to house elementary students while renovations are made to the Chase City, Clarksville and La Crosse school facilities. The soonest Carter said he expected to see students moved into the high schools would be the 2023-24 school year. Until then, they will need to keep the HVAC and electrical systems running so the buildings do not deteriorate, Carter explained.

The current budget includes $400,000 for a new convenience center (manned trash container site) to be built on Pen Road just outside of Clarksville, and another $350,000 for a smaller convenience center in the Ivy Hill area on Highway 49.

That money will be rolled over into the FY2022 budget and another $1 million will be set aside for two additional convenience centers, one in Palmer Springs and another in Bracey.

Carter said he expects to issue an RFP for contractors to bid on construction of the Pen Road Convenience Center in the next two weeks. He did not say when he planned to issue the RFP for the Ivy Hill site but explained that it takes about six months to get a permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to build these sites.

Other large capital expenditures expected to take place in FY2022 include more than $53 million to complete construction of the County’s consolidated secondary school campus in Baskerville, several new vehicle purchases for the landfill and an unspecified amount of money to improve the marketability of the county’s only remaining industrial park site, the Kinderton Industrial Park campus near Clarksville.

Looking ahead, Carter told supervisors that planning has begun for the expansion of the Goode Bank Building at 350 Washington Street in Boydton, where county administration offices are housed. Earlier this year the county purchased a vacant house to the south at 334 Washington Street. That property will be demolished to make way for a large addition to the Good building.

Carter said he’s budgeted $2 million for FY 2023 to cover the cost of architectural fees, permits and construction.

Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the budget on May 19 at 7 p.m. in the Supervisors hearing room in Boydton, and a final vote will take place May 26 at 6:30 p.m.

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Carter stated, "The school division also is asking for money for step increases for school employees and another three percent in salary increase. Instead, Carter said he recommended a five percent salary bump for all school employees."

Continuing to ignore funding to adjust the steps in teacher salaries is a huge mistake. Why make a backward move? Why not listen to the Superintendent who knows the reasons behind asking for step increases and a 3% raise? This request by Carter is inappropriate. The BOS needs to heed the proposal given to them by the School Board.

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