Local Groups Queue for Budget Funding

Clarke County’s municipal budgeting season moved into high gear last night as four groups presented requests for financing from the Clarke County Board of Supervisors. With budget requests from the General Fund already running $288K ahead of last year and with the Clarke County Public School budget yet to be heard, the Supervisors will likely face tough decisions when it comes time to actually allocate the funds.

Lord Fairfax Soil & Water Conservation District

Clarke County resident and Lord Fairfax Soil & Water Conservation District treasurer, Bud Nagelvoort asked the County to match last year’s funding level of $9,500 to support LFSWCD’s work with agriculture and other land users in improving water quality in the state’s streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.

At last night’s budget presentation Nagelvoort told Supervisors Michael Hobert (Berryville) and John Staelin (Millwood) that in 2011 the Lord Fairfax Soil & Water Conservation District – which consists of the counties of Shenandoah, Warren, Frederick, Clarke and the City of Winchester – distributed $639K with $105K going to Clarke County.

Nagelvoort said that LFSWCD funding provides cost sharing support to local landowners ranging from 75 – 92% for stream fencing, riparian buffers, and other water quality protection measures.

As with the Clarke County budget request, Nagelvoort said that Lord Fairfax Soil & Water Conservation District was requesting level funding from each of  its other municipal members as well – $7,650 from Frederick, $14,000 from Shenandoah, $11,000 from Warren and $4,500 from Winchester.

Supervisor John Staelin noted that although Clarke County pays a slightly higher percentage of the Lord Fairfax Soil & Water Conservation District’s operating budget, twenty percent in return for sixteen percent of revenues, he believes that the money is a good investment.

“It’s important that we continue this work,” said Staelin. “We get a lot for our money because our local district is well managed.”

Nagelvoort also pointed out that Clarke County, in its position as the last geographical Virginia county on the Shenandoah River, receives additional benefit of cleaner water as a result of LFSWCD’s upstream spending.

CHEERS School Family, Inc.

CHEERS School Family board chairman, Barry Hockenberry and executive director, Tasha Demko asked that the Supervisors chip in $5,800 to support their non-profit organization dedicated to learning, literacy, and love.

“We operate child development centers located in Berryville, Virginia and Kearneysville, West Virginia, conveniently located for commuting parents,” Hockenberry told the Supervisors. CHEERS executive director Demko explained that the CHEERS program offers pre-school education to children from the age of infancy.

“CHEERS is a pre-school rather than a day care facility,” Demko noted. “We monitor education progress for each student and have education programs being implemented in the infant room.”

Demko said that CHEERS offers a home-away-from home for children whose parents work and provides a School Family where kids spend their days learning and growing and developing the skills they need to be successful people, both personally and academically.

Demko and Hockenberry explained that CHEERS is structured to offer children programs that build self-esteem and confidence by being respectful, positive, accepting, and caring in classroom environments offering a process-oriented curriculum that meets or exceeds state standards for early learning. CHEERS teachers facilitate the development of life-long learning skills that are especially important for school-age youth making independent decisions on an increasing basis.

Hockenberry pointed out that CHEERS is the only non-church, not-for-profit pre-school in Clarke County.

Hockenbery also said that the economic downturn had resulted in enrollment falling to just 60% of capacity in 2010, but was slowly recovering. CHEERS 2011 enrollment climbed to 74%. “The last three years have been very difficult for us. In order to keep our enrollment at the same levels we have had to subsidize more low income families than we have had to on the past,” Hockenberry said.

“It’s important that every child, including low-income children, be prepared as much as possible by the time that they reach school,” Demko said.

Department of Social Services

Clarke County Social Services director, Angie Jones told the Supervisors that caseloads have significantly increased over the last four years and presented three budget scenario requests based on funding availability.

“Due to retirement of a long time clerical position we are looking at increasing a three day a week
position to full time,” Jones said. “This will give us two full time clerical and a part-time position working 2 days per week. Over the past four years we have seen our caseloads increase by about 43%. The first point of contact is our front office.”

Jones said that her social worker staff is also experiencing increased documentation requirements from federal audits and requires clerical support staff to help with documenting files.

“With the change in the clerical position I believe that I can accommodate the additional need for front office help and also use this position to help social workers with documentation,” Jones said. “Along with this I feel that the clerical unit needs a supervisor to train and manage the work flow activities.

Jones estimated that the cost of supervision would cost $6,300 and increasing part-time clerical position to full-time would be approximately $17,000 after the increase salary and fringe benefits.

Jones also asked the Supervisors to consider funding needed to upgrade three social worker position salaries. Jones said that the three workers started at entry level positions and have now been with the agency three to five years. Jones said that during this time there have been no salary increases and that salary upgrade would recognize improved skill levels of the positions which are currently compensated at approximately $19,000.

Jones also recommended upgrading the department’s eligibility supervisor position based on a 2008 salary study. Jones said that since the 2008 study the eligibility supervisor has taken on the fraud caseload and has done a good job in bringing cases to successful prosecution and recovering over payments.

Jones’s three budget scenarios include a steady-state option with a $7K increase over last year’s $1.4M budget and includes no salary increases and no new positions; A budget increase of 2.6% which includes the addition of an office manager and reallocation of the part-time receptionist to full-time status; and a 4.4% budget increase request which, in addition to the previous changes would include a salary increase for the eligibility supervisor and three social worker positions.

Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging

Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging (SAAA) acting director Cynthia Palmer and resource development director Roberta Lauder told the Supervisors that although SAAA is making progress in recovering from the alleged fraudulent use of funds by a former employee in 2011, along with poor financial management, full financial recovery for the organization is still a distant goal.

“The whole problem won’t be solved by July,” Palmer said.

In addition to requesting $45K in budget support, Palmer said that SAAA has implemented a number of steps to improve cash flow and regain solvency.

Palmer said that SAAA staff and directors have taken a 10% salary cut and the organization has committed to contacting “40 friends in 40 days” asking each to donate $1,000 in order to improve SAAA’s cash flow.

“Whatever we need to do, we’re doing,” Palmer said. “I was in the kitchen cooking on Monday.”

During the discussion Supervisor Staelin asked about the amount of funding provided by Clarke County that that stays local.

“The money provided by Clarke County will be used for services here in Clarke County,” Lauder said.

Staelin said that he believed that while a portion of the SAAA’s current financial challenge was due to a misuse of funds, the bulk of the problem stemmed from poor cash management practices.

“The hole that SAAA is digging out of is because people were spending money faster than it was coming in,” Staelin said. “The problem was bad budgeting and bad management. There was some corruption too but that wasn’t the biggest part of the problem.”

The next FY13 budget work session will be held on Monday, February 6th at 10:00 am at the Joint Government Center.