The Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors meeting last week, was hot and heavy at times. Some said it was the most interesting interaction in a long time.
The exchange between the Supervisors related to setting the annual tax levy on various classes of the real estate and personal property for the FY (Fiscal Year) 2015.
Clearly there were no Supervisors in favor of adding the 3 cents per $100 of a home’s assessed value. In fact, while each had their own opinion of which items in the budget should be cut, none wanted to increase the tax to the rate advertised months ago.
All Supervisors agreed that they should work together to see the cuts equal to the $9 million that had to be cut in order to balance the budget.
Each Supervisor had a few revisions to the nine item list of ordinance amendments, but only two could be approved before the tax rate was approved. And it wasn’t, causing the decision to be postponed until April 23, 2014.
The dustup occurred when early in the discussion Dan Gecker, Supervisor Midlothian District, presented a list of budget cuts that would balance the loss of $9 million in revenue, that was slated for schools, to offset the debt service (interest) on the school and public safety bonds approved by citizens in the November 2013 bond referendum.
A meals tax to pay for the debt was denied by voters.
“The first thing is to restore PTR (Pupil Teacher Ratio),” said Dan Gecker, Midlothian District Supervisor. “I don’t want to leave today what will be a problem tomorrow.”
Bermuda District Supervisor, Dorothy Jaeckle, agreed with Mr. Gecker on PTR and spoke strongly about funds that she felt should not be cut from the budget. She said she thought it was quite the meeting.
“I absolutely enjoy a good discussion,” Ms. Jaeckle said. “I think you should be willing to stand up for what you believe in, even if it is not popular. I could never be a populist. I thought the schools made a very good case for where the PTR money was going.”
Jaeckle also got some support for her case for PTR and the continuing on a path to open the Harrowgate Fire Station, currently under construction.
Jim Holland, Chairman and Dale Supervisor, agreed that PTR was a major concern of his and he whole heartily felt it should be addressed in the budget, but not all the cuts proposed to balance the budget without raising taxes.
Although Jaeckle agreed with getting the size of school classrooms to a minimum size, she was not so supportive of Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) buying new buses right now. “I don’t want to give up road money for buses. Maybe that’s not something we need to do right now.” Jaeckle said.
CCPS initially had proposed purchasing 120 new buses this year, but when pushed reduced the number of buses to 20 a year. It now looks as if the entire project may be abandoned for FY2015.
Gecker went over each of his proposed budget cuts with an explanation of why he was suggesting the cuts. He said that all his proposed cuts were only a jumping off point and were open to discussion and change. Four of the Supervisors were flexible but had their own ideas of what should go and what should stay in the budget.
Matoaca District Supervisor, Steve Elswick, was interested in the discussion, “because we are talking about a budget without a tax increase.” But he said that it wasn’t the job of the Board to dig deep into the budget or cuts, but the responsibility of Alan Carmody, Director of Budget and Management and Jay Stegmaier, County Administrator to bring the budget to the Board to say yea or nay.
Some items that were on Gecker’s cut list included the express bus routes on Hull Street Road and Midlothian Turnpike; eliminating tourism support; shifting school capital improvements from seven to nine years; four additional police officers; legislative consulting; reorganization of economic development; defer building Reams-Gordon Library; eliminate one of the proposed two buildings at the Enon fire training center among others.
This is somewhere we have to go [cuts in the budget] on this and I hope we vote 5 – 0 on this, said Jaeckle
The Department of Utilities was approved to increase fee changes.
Ordinance amendments to stormwater management, erosion and sediment control and stormwater discharge and associated fees were adopted.
All of the other seven ordinances related to the budget were deferred until a real estate and other taxes can be worked out.