County budget contains few surprises this cycle

Chesterfield’s budget and management staff is making the rounds this week and next to present the proposed 2011 – 2012 biannual county budget. Each county supervisor has planned at least one community meeting to allow residents to see the budget and to weigh-in with any concerns. The Board of Supervisors must adopt a budget prior to May 1, but supervisors are expected to finalize revisions to the proposed budget during a public hearing on March 23 and adopt it during the afternoon session of its April 13 meeting.

During the community meetings, both the administration and the schools’ budget will be presented. Those who attend the meetings can expect to see a summary of the proposed budget that is 324 pages in length.

TAXES AND REVENUES
Where does the county come up with the funds to run the county? As you might imagine taxes
from local residents is the primary source (70.7 percent) in the form of property taxes,  our local portion of sales taxes, and building permit and other related fees. A distant second at 17.5 percent is the county’s piece of  state taxes and then finally the Federal government kicks in 1.4 percent. An additional 10.3 percent comes from miscellaneous sources such as bonds, leases and such.
Although personal property taxes have gained 2 percent this year, property taxes, due to falling assessments will cost the county $7.2 million and the real estate tax rate will remain the same as last year at $.95 per $100 of assessed value.  

SCHOOLS
The biggest piece of the budget is allocated to schools. The Dr. Marcus Newsome noted that there would be little change in the base budget from last year’s (2011 fiscal year) to the proposed budget for 2012 and no jobs or programs lost. Schools get $517 million as their base budget but according to Dr. Newsome, “efficient management, additional cuts to central office positions and facilities services, and savings have allowed us to provide employees with a one-time 2 percent salary adjustment to offset a 2 percent pay cut.

Schools receive 43.7 percent of the Chesterfield’s CIP (Capital Improvement Program) budget. In this budget cycle $29.7 million is slated for a number of school improvement projects such as major maintenance and renovations, energy and security improvements, technology plans and replacements, a state technology project and an addition to Watkins Elementary.

One issue of concern for schools and the Board of Supervisors is the pupil to student ratio (PTR).

“I do think the public needs to know the direction you are headed,” said Midlothian District Supervisor Dan Gecker during Newsome’s budget presentation to the board. “It really doesn’t appear that Chesterfield has made a conscience effort to reduce PTR.”

Newsome responded that the number one priority is to hold steady on teacher salaries. “It will be 2014 before we address PTR,” Newsome said.

CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM
According to County Administrator James J.L. Stegmaier’s report to the Board of  Supervisors on the CIP budget  “a careful review of the 2004 bond projects and projects contemplated in the Public Facilities Plan was undertaken. As a result, some revisions to projects reflected in last year’s plan were necessary, including a proposal to shift three projects (Route 288-Courthouse Road area fire station, the Chester Arts Center, and design funding for the Route 360 West area library) to later in the five-year plan.

GENERNAL FUND SPENDING AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Mr. Stegmaier reported that “general fund revenues have declined by $48.3 million, or 6.5 percent, since fiscal year 2009, presenting this community with some difficult issues to resolve.” He said that in the end, the Board of Supervisors chose to preserve funding for public safety and local education (only a 1.1 percent decline), while aggressively trimming administrative and support costs and reducing the tax burden on an average household by more than five percent.”

Level of funding for general government functions were reduced by 3.3 percent in fiscal year 2011 and by 8.4 percent total including the 2012 budget that will begin in July.
Over the last three years, “county staff have implemented cost saving strategies, ranging from the consolidation of nine county departments to extensive job sharing and cross-training in the community development division,” the County Administrator stated. Those accomplishments generated approximately $7.3 million in efficiency savings and helped to limit changes to the most noticeable programs and services, according to budget documents.

While revenue has been squeezed and departmental spending has been pulled back, there are still successes that are continuing to drive the county forward. The community services division, which includes health and welfare, criminal justice and recreation, education and culture is hard at work on the 400th Anniversary of the founding of Henricus, expanding youth and adult athletics through public private partnerships, a 75 percent reduction in sales of alcohol to underage buyers through the SAFE program, the first

Build-A-House project dedicated by Mental Health Support Services, an increased number of electronic material available though libraries and more.  

The community development division is where the hammer hits the nail during difficult times in the building and development areas. The division has diversified focus and now concentrates on redevelopment, sustainability and safety. The division, which includes utilities, economic development, planning, environmental engineering, transportation and building inspection, typically holds its own on its revenue to expenditures ratio but has seen challenges with the crash of building and development nationwide.

But community development has also seen successes in bringing the Countywide Comprehensive Plan to the draft stage, created partnerships with challenged neighborhoods such as Broadwater Townhouses and is working with grants to revitalize Jefferson Davis Highway north of Rt. 288. The building inspection department has implemented proactive private home inspections and expanded its online services. And there has been private investment in the county business by Dupont, Ortho Virginia, Merit Medical and Sabra Dipping and new road projects such as the Meadowville interchange, Woolridge Road causeway and the Rt. 10 widening east of Interstate 95. In fact, the transportation department touts the largest road project volume in the history of the county.

The utilities department will continued to sustain itself through a water and sewer rate increase. A typical bimonthly bill is expected to increase from $90.60 to $94.76, which is less than 7 cents per day in addition to increase fee for water and sewer connections.

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