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No Mecklenburg tax hikes with new budget; three percent pay hikes doable

SoVaNow.com / March 15, 2017
The Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors is saying “no” to a tax increase to fund the upcoming county budget, but members have expressed support for giving a 3 percent pay increase to school personnel over and above any statewide increases.

Supervisors, at their regularly monthly meeting Monday in Boydton, also turned down a request by the School Board to fund new staff positions. School trustees are seeking $5.8 million in additional local funding over the amount in the current fiscal year budget, which expires June 30.

The School Board’s budget included a request for a five percent pay hike for personnel.

The budget discussion Monday came in response to a request by County Administrator Wayne Carter for “direction” in preparing the fiscal year 2017-18 budget, which goes into effect July 1.

Mecklenburg County ended the 2016 fiscal year — which ran from July 2015 to June 2016 — with a healthy balance sheet and a clean or “unmodified” audit. That was the news that Robin Jones, CPA with Creedle Jones & Alga, delivered to board members.

Jones said a “clean or unmodified audit” means that nothing in the way the county maintains its books needs to be fixed or changed. There were no internal control issues or deficiencies identified, and no problems or findings with the manner in which federal monies were handled or spent, Jones said.

She added that because auditors have found no material problems with the county’s finances for three years, Mecklenburg is considered low risk. Auditors review only 20 percent of the county’s financial transactions.

At the end of fiscal year 2016, on June 30, 2016, Mecklenburg County’s net position for cash and cash equivalents was $42,278,96 and the value of its capital assets was $40,199,996. The county’s total net position — assets minus liabilities — was $69,567,585.

Jones said the financial health of the county is reflected in the fact that legal debt margin — the amount of money the county can borrow — is $380 million.

However, Jones added, she is not suggesting Mecklenburg should borrow up to that amount.

While the School Board ended the year with a net cash position of $924,715 and nearly $25 million in assets, it also had a major liability — future payments to the Virginia Retirement System for employee pensions.

Jones said this liability was just over $36.5 million. Primarily because of the VRS obligation, the School Board’s net position (assets minus liabilities) was in the red, $15,355,367.

For FY 2016, Mecklenburg County contributed just over 31 percent of all monies received by the school division from federal, state and local sources. In dollar terms, local taxpayers provided $13,808,725 of the $44,326,512 received.

Jones’ firm also audited the Industrial Development Authority. It, too, ended FY 2016 with a healthy balance sheet. Its net position was nearly $7.9 million, with just under $1 million in cash or cash equivalents and $6.5 million in land and buildings.

In other business, Justin Eubank and Floyd Edmonds, appearing on behalf of the Mecklenburg County Rescue Association, requested an additional $50,000 for each of the county’s rescue squads and $10,000 for one first responder agency.

There are four local rescue squads: Boydton Life Station, Chase City Rescue Squad, Mecklenburg County Life Saving & Rescue, and Southside Rescue Squad.

Eubank said in each of these organizations, volunteer levels and transport payments from private insurance and Medicare/Medicaid have dropped significantly. And each year the squads face funding challenges.

“Manpower is getting critical, and there are a couple of things we are up against. With Obamacare, at least 45 percent of the insurers are out” of the health insurance marketplace. “Now only the big guys” — such as Anthem — “are in and they’re paying less in reimbursement. And Medicare and Medicaid said the responders must go against the transported individuals for the amount not reimbursed.”

Eubank added, “We [EMS squads] have the infrastructure in place already, and we know what we’re doing. We just need a little help to keep going.”

The county saves significantly by having volunteer EMS squads, according to Eubank. EMS operations in Granville County, N.C., the nearest county with paid EMS staff, cost the county over $2.5 million. He said his organization does not want Mecklenburg to take on that financial burden.

The request will be considered as the county prepares its budget for the new fiscal year.

Supervisors agreed to hire the engineering firm of Hurt and Proffitt to perform an environmental assessment on the former Mecklenburg Correctional Center site. The firm will perform a “Phase I environmental report” for the site at a cost of $33,250.00.

A Phase I Environmental Assessment is a report prepared for a real estate holding that identifies potential or existing environmental contamination and liabilities.

For an additional $2,700, which Supervisors approved Hurt and Proffitt agreed to write a grant for a VEDP Brownsfield Assistance Program for up to a $50,000 match to be used on this Phase I and a Phase II report, if needed.

The total contract cost is $35,950 which used an existing tobacco grant as the match. The original tobacco grant is for $180,000 with a match of $20,000 from the county.

Supervisors also agreed to use $75,000 from the Mecklenburg’s economic development allotment from the Tobacco Commission for repair work at the Mecklenburg-Brunswick Regional Airport. The funding would match $75,000 from Brunswick’s allocation, and be used to expand the terminal apron, install a new taxiway, expand hanger taxi lanes for larger aircraft and to relocate a hanger that is a current obstruction.

The remaining $2,932,100 would come from the Federal Aviation Administration and State Department of Aviation.

A request for $20,000 a year for three years to join a marketing consortium was also approved. The Virginia Growth Alliance, a regional economic development team in which Mecklenburg participates, has plans to hire a Florida based consultant, Retail Strategies, to increase the county’s ability to attract retailers to the area.

Jon Taylor’s request to have the Church Hill Five Forks Volunteer Fire Department provide fire protection service for the Timbuctu area of Mecklenburg County was approved. Taylor, who is the Emergency Services Coordinator, said the area is currently served by the Palmer Springs Volunteer Fire Department, which due to its distance from the area has led to a higher ISO rating (local fire protection for property insurance rating purposes), which cost homeowners on their insurance.

Supervisors also approved Taylor’s request to enter into an agreement for the county to use the State Police tower in South Hill for the county’s new radio system.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols invited Supervisors to a “special luncheon meeting at noon on April 18 at Brian’s Steakhouse.” Barry DuVal, who serves as the CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, will be in town to discuss “Blueprint Virginia 2025,” the Chamber’s long-term statewide economic development plan.

Nichols said the plan focuses on regional cooperation, something he believes is very important for the county moving forward. Nichols expects the cost of the lunch will be underwritten by local businesses.

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