County Funding Gap Widens with School Budget Still to Come

The Clarke County Supervisors met on Monday to have their first collective look at how the County’s FY13 budget is shaping up. As the Board begins to establish budget priorities it also discussed whether the County’s current tax rate was adequate to meet the needs of County residents in the faces of a potential 2013 budget deficit.

After several weeks of combing over the revenue side of the budget and with major budget expenditure requests yet to be presented by the Clarke County Sheriff’s department and the Clarke County Public School, the County is facing an FY13 budget shortfall of $$631K after accounting for $875K of pay-as-you-go funding set aside for planned capital expenditures.

As County employees approach their fifth year without salary increases; with Virginia Retirement System, health insurance and life insurance costs projected to increase $148K in the coming year; and with the County’s antiquated automation systems crippled by obsolescence, Monday’s discussion eventually turned to the consideration of a tax hike to address the County’s needs.

One major capital requirement discussed was a $650K FY13 budget request for implementation of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system funded jointly by the County and the Clarke County Public Schools. Funding for the ERP would initially be used to implement County treasury, property assessment, general ledger, accounts payable, payroll, and purchasing, and utilities systems followed by document management and human resources, applicant tracking, time and attendance, and leave management.

“We have some fundamental problems with the way that we are doing County business,” Supervisor Michael Hobert (Berryville) told the other Board members during Monday’s meeting. “Our department heads don’t have the ability to go online and review their fund balances or to see the status of their budgets. Compared to things like a recycling convenience center or a regional park, this is a fundamental need required to operate this locality.”

Hobert, who has led a two-year review of County automation systems, labeled the County’s automation systems as “primitive.”

County Administrator David Ash echoed Hobert’s concerns.

“If we don’t do this now then we at least need to be prepared to do something,” Ash said. “If our current vendors duck out on us for some reason were going to need to do something sooner rather than later.”

Despite the evidence presented in favor of an ERP system procurement, not everyone on the Board appeared in agreement with the wisdom of moving forward.

“I have big concerns about a small county being out in front on something like this,” said Supervisor John Staelin (Millwood). “One option would be to stay with the status quo for a while until companies can offer more turnkey systems that work with the Commonwealth [systems].”

“Should we do a bit more investigation on this?” asked Supervisor Barbara Byrd (Russell).

Joint Administrative Services director Tom Judge, who has conducted most of the investigation into the costs and benefits of an ERP system, said that other communities are already using ERP systems to streamline the costs of local government.

“Many communities are doing ERP through a software-as-a-service approach where the system and data are hosted by a commercial business,” Judge said.

Judge said that while a software-as-a-service- approach could save the County approximately 25% in cost by out-sourcing the expertise necessary to host the software to a private organization, he still has concerns about the County’s proprietary information being in the hands of an outside entity.

“One partial solution might be to implement a software-as-a-service model but have all of the County’s data and software backed-up on a local server that would be accessible in the event of a problem,” Judge said.

In addition to the $650K ERP cost, the Supervisors are also considering $65K for a proposed regional park on the Cool Spring Civil War battlefield site in the eastern portion of the County, a $500K expenditure – spread over 20 years – for a recycling convenience center located near the intersection of Quarry Road and Route 7, a $65K increase in regional jail costs and a $70K requested increase from the County’s department of Social Services.

In addition, a preliminary draft of the Clarke County Public Schools budget, due to be presented later in the February, requests 21 new positions needed in the coming year.

Given that the County’s current real estate tax rate of 62 cents per $100 of value may not meet this year’s “flat budget” plan, let alone fund a long-asked-for salary increase for County employees, one Supervisor suggested the option of using the County’s existing fund balances as a way to cover the deficit rather than with a permanent tax rate increase.

Supervisor David Weiss (Buckmarsh) said that given a flat funding approach for all agencies it may make sense to use some of the County’s “one-time” funds previously set aside for future projects to cover the deficit with hopes that improving economic conditions will allow the County to recover the revenues in the future.

“A time is coming when people will have to make a choice between accepting fewer services or accepting higher taxes,” Weiss said.

A public hearing on the Clarke County Public Schools budget will be held on February 13 at 7:00pm at Clarke County High School.

Comments

  1. Right Winger says:

    “…Judge said that while a software-as-a-service- approach could save the County approximately 25% in cost by out-sourcing the expertise necessary to host the software to a private organization, he still has concerns about the Countys’ proprietary information being in the hands of an outside entity.”

    It’s called a non-disclosure agreement. Duh.

    “…“A time is coming when people will have to make a choice between accepting fewer services or accepting higher taxes” Weiss said….”

    It’s been here for a while. [redacted] and raise the taxes since the BOS is incapable of attracting business to offset taxes. Quit the hand-wringing and the wishy-washy BS and make decisions, that’s what you were elected to do.

  2. Clarke Co Annie says:

    “A time is coming when people will have to make a choice between accepting fewer services or accepting higher taxes,” Weiss said.

    Then drop “The Park”. It will cost far more in county services.

    • How about stopping the $500K plus for a senior center? You certainly want to spend the big tax $ when it’s something you want, a non necessity. The park is small potatoes in comparison.

      • Clarke Co Annie says:

        Funding for that project included new offices, new roof, ac and many other needed repairs with an ROI. And, I have a deep respect for our elders.
        The Park has no ROI and will cause far more negative issues than positive.

        • So just because you see it as a necessity. Having respect for our elders is so far off topic. It’s like saying regarding the park “I have respect for our history”. We’re talking 500K here. You must have some personal stake in this one.

        • So you want it both ways huh Annie? Are you a senior or approaching senior age, or just a NIMBY type?
          Spend my tax dollars when it’s convenient for you. Now I see.

  3. The supervisors’ chickens have now come home to roost. They punted year after year on any sort of thoughtful economic development (infrastructure, etc.); they punted doing things the right way, opting for doing things on the cheap (basic IT infrastructure); they punted investing in employees and such.

    Now, it’s time to pay the piper. There can’t be any more cuts. The IT infrastructure is to the point of being ridiculously behind the times and best practices. All county and school staff need (and deserve) pay raises. Forget about the park along the river. Use the fund balance for one-time upgrades like the computer infrastructure (do it right, not just on the cheap), and raise the revenues to invest in the people and programs necessary to maintain a quality level of services.

  4. Ah Jes Luv Jurassic Clarke says:

    The BOS has been driving business away from Clarke since time immemorial. If we couldn’t make a buck back in the heydays (2006-7) what miracle (REPLACE THE ENTIRE BOS) would it take to earn anything these days. We replaced most of the school board members and failed to solve the other half of Clarke’s problem, the BOS. Until this hidebound pack is run out of town, expect nothing but business as usual.

    • Amen, to this comment. I have been saying this for many years. Self interest is about all the BOS is concerned with. Clarke is nothing more than a bedroom county.

  5. knowswherethebodiesareburied says:

    In typical Clarke County fashion, a funding shortfall elicits only 5 comments but saving some green space(park boondoggle) has the whole county up in arms.

    I have asked in prior postings how long can the BOS lean on the citizens to foot the bills ? All the while those citizens travel to neighboring counties to spend and purchase the basics needed for everyday life.

  6. Looks like its time for the BOS to start doing things to attract business to the county and I’m not talking stuck out in no mans land like Jack Enders Blvd or Double Tollgate. It time to stop the good old boy times and let Businesses in the county Alton Echols
    tried to get a CVS and other businesses that would have helped with taxes but no one wanted to upset the good old boys.

    As for accepting fewer services or higher taxes there are a whole lot of people in the county that don’t get any thing for the taxes they pay now except snow plowed in the winter and sides of the road cut maybe 2 times a year. They don’t have kids in school and have been lucky enough not to need fire & rescue or law enforcement services. So what do they get for their taxes? Nothing. So, do they need to pay more taxes and get nothing? Maybe they need to look at what some people are paying in taxes like 54 acres with 3 DURs valued at $31,600 and just down the road you have 5 acres with 1 DUR valued for $51,100 both zoned AOC. Then there is 4.6 acres at 177,600 zoned FOC so it cost more to look at trees than fields. Something’s wrong with this picture! Situations like this are costing the rest of us “Payers”.

  7. 500K expenditure – spread over 20 years – for a recycling convenience center. There is no way a compactor and a couple recycle bins and a fence can cost this much unless its lined in gold or your padding someone’s pocket. It was my understanding the land was going to be leased from Stuart Perry for a dollar.

  8. Tony Parrott says:

    Many factors can and will be pointed to as the budgeting season gets into full swing. Over the years two priorities have been consistent with the BOS; open space and low taxes. Now I will start by saying I have nothing against either of these priorities and actually support them, who wouldn’t? But the failure of the BOS has been in keeping a balance between these priorities and the overall needs of the county and its citizens. The way taxes are supposed to work is we ALL put into the bucket so the cost of services are spread over the entire population. You may not need one of the many services the county provides but some day you or a family member might. I believe people call that paying it forward.

    Now computer systems, sewage treatment plants, high schools etc didn’t just become needs over night. These are long term planning items. So you can handle this in two ways.
    1) Set an appropriate tax rate that plans for future needs and infrastructure upgrades and set course adjustments as needed.
    2) Put it off as long as humanly possible, then put it off even longer and then increase taxes.

    So the next time the BOS looks to raise the tax rate remember it’s not the fault of government regulations, schools, or county employees who haven’t had a raise in years. It the lack of long term budgetary planning to meet these needs. And that my friend falls on the BOS. David Weiss is actually right when he says “a time is coming” and we might be more supportive if we could see a long term plan.

    • Tony, Tony, Tony. There is a long-term plan that the BOS has had for a long time. Protect their land and their money, County needs and County citizens be darned.