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Halifax County budget fix unclear, but needs come into focus

SoVaNow.com / December 18, 2014
Members of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors face a vexing budget crunch next year — but tax increases or program cuts are not yet part of their conversation about the problem.

Members of the board’s budget and finance committee began discussions of the 2015-16 budget on Monday morning, reviewing figures furnished to them by County Finance Director Stephanie Jackson.

“It certainly looks challenging,” said committee chairman Doug Bowman, who added that Halifax is unlikely to receive outside help in dealing with its fiscal challenges: “I think we can expect no more candy from Richmond with the state facing one of its most difficult budgets.”

The meeting was attended by Bowman and panel members J.T. Davis and Larry Giordano. Also present was ED-5 Supervisor Barry Bank.

Each supervisor received a color-coded list of revenue sources for the past five budget years from Jackson: by color coding the list, Jackson said she distinguished between taxes and fees that cannot be raised, and those that have some room for increases. The fixed revenue sources are state or federally-controlled, she noted.

Revenue sources that fall under the county’s control and thus can be raised include real estate and personal property taxes and most fees.

On the expense side of the ledger, Jackson detailed projected spending needs in the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. In total, the additional expenses exceed $3 million.

Jackson estimated that:

The county will need to pay an additional $600,000 to the Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority in per diem expenses for prisoners.

It will need to spend $130,000 on new vehicles to replace older ones in use by the Sheriff’s Department.

For buildings and infrastructure, the county must find $200,000 to pay for renovations to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s building.

Another $65,000 will be needed for the cost of running water to the fairgrounds property.

Yet another $400,000 is needed for renovations to the USDA-Farm Service facility.

Jackson also outlined requests from the school system; annual capital projects will require $900,000 and the purchase of ten new school buses adds another $800,000.

Several other items not included in the review are the need for a full sized pick-up truck for animal control and the completion of several convenience centers for trash collection — one for the Scottsburg area and two others, for Route 501 North and Route 501 South.

Giardano pointed to the need for new air packs by several local volunteer fire departments whose equipment is outdated.

Of the local taxes that are at the maximum allowed by state code, the list includes the business license tax, motor vehicle licenses, the meals tax and the lodging tax as well as the local sales tax and the cost of animal licenses.

Halifax County’s real estate tax is currently set at 46 cents per $100 value. The local rate ranks second lowest among the five neighboring counties. Mecklenburg County has the lowest rate of 40 cents per $100, Charlotte County charges 48 cents per $100, Campbell 52 cents and Pittsylvania County has the highest rate at 59 cents per $100.

Every one cent increase in the Halifax County real estate tax generates an additional $364,951, she said. Personal property taxes, which are now set at $3.60 per $100 value, generate an additional $21,428 for each one cent increase.

The machinery and tools tax, now set at $1.26 per $100 value, generates an additional $12,019 for each one cent increase.

Another increase could potentially come in the solid waste disposal fee which is currently set at $48 per household. Upping this fee by $2 would bring in an additional $25,000.

Bowman commented, “We are going to have to prioritize our lists. We simply can’t do it all at once.”

Jackson said all county department heads are being asked to submit their budget requests by Jan. 15 after which time she will have a better sense of what each will need for the coming budget year.

Bowman asked that she look at any areas of those requests where consolidation might be achieved — such as where the county and schools plan to consolidate their health care programs.

Both Bowman and panel member J. T. Davis said they plan to seek more information about the possible consolidation of financial operations for the county. Davis said he wants to see how much money the county would lose from the state compensation board for the salaries of the treasurer and commissioner of the revenue should Halifax decide to go to the county executive form of government which includes a finance director but no treasurer or commissioner.

Bowman, referring back to the statement of VACO Director Jim Campbell during last week’s strategic planning session, added “just because it’s never been done, doesn’t mean it stops our discussion about it. State studies have been done, and I’d like to see those.

“However, if nothing has been done in the past ten years, then that information would now be irrelevant.”

Giardano mentioned that he would like to look into the potential for the county leveling a “severance tax” — noting that some counties tax the coal taken from their areas. He suggested that Halifax might be able to derive some income from its natural resources such as water that is shared with other regions.

The panel will meet for further discussion in early February after the finance director receives the input from the other departments and agencies.

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