No Opposition to Budget or Tax Rate

Tuesday night’s Clarke County Board of Supervisors public hearing was advertised as a chance for public comment on the proposed 2011 local tax rates. Even though there was plenty of public comment, little of it focused on the tax rate. Instead, support for the planned Center for Active Living which will coexist with the Clarke County’s Recreation Center dominated the discussion.

The approximately 25 members of the public attending last night’s meeting sent a clear message to the supervisors; move forward on $1.5M of improvements to Clarke County’s recreation center and senior center.

Approximately half of the funds for the project, also known as Clarke County Active Living Center, will come from the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging (SAAA), a non-profit organization that provides services and opportunities that enhance the dignity and independence of older persons and promote their contributions to the community.

Martha Myer, the chairperson for the Capital Campaign for the Clarke County Active Living Center, has been instrumental in raising money for the project and urged the supervisors to keep the project moving.

“I have been working on the capital campaign for nearly five-and-a-half years,” Myer told the supervisors. “We have had well over 400 individuals contribute to the project. Seniors are very anxious to see this become a reality.”

Supervisor John Staelin (Millwood) described the project as including both improvements to the county’s aging recreation center facilities as well as a building addition that will provide support for the county’s older population.

“The project really has three phases,” Staelin said. “The first phase involves improving the HVAC, replacing the current roof and a wall repair. The second phase will be the senior center addition.”

Staelin pointed out that although the cost of the senior center addition is $900K, SAAA’s contributions means that Clarke County’s share of the cost is only $400K.

“Of the money being spent more than half is coming from donations,” Staelin said.

Clarke County Senior Center Budget (Click here to view the proposed Clarke County Parks / Senior Center Budget)

Parks and Recreation Advisory Board Chairman Daniel Sheetz said that the building that currently houses the recreation center office has served its purpose and the time has come to move on to a new facility.

“The recreation center is twenty years old,” Sheetz said. “It’s still in decent shape but it needs a new roof. Now is the time to do it.”

Sheetz said that the partnership be senior center and the parks department had worked very well so and placing seniors where they can benefit from all of the activity and programs offered by the recreation center made a lot of sense.

“With all of the people going through the parks it would be nice to give them a new facility where they can operate more efficiently,” Sheetz said.

Both Berryville Mayor Wilson Kirby and Clarke County Senior Center Director Bonnie Dodson told the supervisors that the new center offers an important way for the county to support its aging citizens.

“The current facility is not what the seniors here deserve,” said Mayor Kirby. “I encourage you to move forward in a positive way and give Clarke County seniors what they really need, a new senior center.”

Bonnie Dodson thanked the Supervisors including the senior center project during what has been a difficult season for new budget projects. Dodson said that the new center will not benefit only seniors, but all of Clarke County’s citizens by helping older residents maintain independent lifestyles for as long as possible.

“We have cooked and delivered over 10,000 meals for seniors at the current facility,” Dodson said. “Help with meals helps seniors our seniors stay in their own homes for as long as they can.”

SAAA’s services, like meal delivery and providing recreational opportunities, are designed to assist older persons who wish to stay in their own homes, to provide information for seniors and their families, to protect individuals living in long term care residences, and to facilitate staying active and provide community service.

With only positive comments regarding its plan to turn the proposed senior center into a reality, several supervisors used the opportunity to emphasize the economic and social benefits of community collaboration.

“This is all being funded with money that has been put aside over the years,” said Supervisor David Weiss (Buckmarsh). “It’s a pretty good deal when you get private funds matching government funds on a one-to-one basis. To me this is how government should work.”

Turning to the larger issue of the budget being offered by the county, Weiss said that he felt good about the final result of the budget process.

Clarke County 2011 Tax Rate (Click here to view the proposed tax rates)

“I think that we have done all that we possibly can to hold taxes level while still meeting the needs of the people as best as we can,” Weiss said.

John Staelin told the public seated in the audience that big expenditures have a way of encroaching on other parts of the budget, but things usually do improve over time.

“This year operational funding for our schools has been crowded out by debt service,” Staelin said in reference to a $486K debt service payment that the county is covering on the new county high school project. “But the debt service has pretty much been capped and drops pretty dramatically by 2016 so there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael Hobert (Berryville) said that projects that address a broad range of needs by combining multiple stakeholders and financing sources have played a critical part in helping the county continue to make progress even during navigate difficult financial times.

“This budget demonstrates that we are a community that knows how to build partnerships,” Hobert said. “We’ve saved a lot of money by working together on projects like the library, the school and now the senior center. For example, people who use the senior center will benefit from the activities taking place at the recreation center. These are exactly the kinds of partnerships that we need to build as a small community.”

The Board of Supervisors will vote whether or not to finalize the proposed tax rates later this month.