The Clarke County Board of Supervisors continued its careful and deliberative approach on fiscal management on Tuesday as the Supervisors scrutinized departmental spending plans while encouraging prompt spending by the Clarke County School Board. On the revenue side of the Board’s budget deliberation the Supervisors endorsed a grant application that is expected bring up to 40 new jobs and eighteen new businesses to our area.
Supervisors Adhere to Fiscal Caution
The Supervisors spent much of Tuesday afternoon’s meeting pouring over budget details and projections for the coming decade. Current economic conditions aside, fiscal cautiousness by the Supervisors is stemming from declining state budget cuts that will likely have a long-term chilling effect on local spending both in Clarke and across the Commonwealth.
In August, Supervisors Chairman Michael Hobert briefed the Board on the negative fiscal trends that Clarke County can expect in General Fund support to local counties. Hobert’s presentation was a recap of information provided by James Regimbal of the Virginia Association of Counties.
In the presentation, Hobert cautioned the Board that Virginia’s General Fund aid to localities will decline by more than $1B in 2012 over 2008 levels. The major funding categories of K-12 education support, compensation board spending, and local law enforcement support will all see significant reductions over 2008 levels for the foreseeable future.
School Renovations Get Green Light
With Virginia’s budget in freefall, described as a “derailed train” by Regimbald, the Supervisors are being fiscally cautious with incurring any new county spending, including the $7.1M surplus fund associated with the new high school budget.
The recent budget concerns about inclusion of a greenhouse and vocational technology center at the new high school, although exacerbated by an inflated cost estimate for the new facility that outraged many citizens, was in many ways a signal by the Supervisors of their concern about the county’s short term fiscal future.
After being provided with a capital expenditure plan approved by the School Board Monday evening, on Tuesday the Supervisors agreed to the School Board’s budget for spending approximately $5.6M to renovate both Clarke County High School and DG Cooley Elementary School and urged that the School Board move forward with plans to convert Berryville Primary to an administrative staff facility as quickly as possible in order to take advantage favorable construction costs caused by the slow economy.
The Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Supervisor John Staelin (Millwood) to accept the School Board’s $7.1M spending plan through 2015. In the resolution Staelin and the Board directed that the School Board annually review the spending plan and consult with the Board of Supervisors prior to any changes in its spending plans.
Staelin’s resolution also added that the School Board try to spend the approved renovation funds “quickly and wisely” in order to take advantage of the current favorable construction climate.
As the Supervisors scrutinized other budget categories Supervisor Pete Dunning’s (White Post) eye landed on a $270K public safety line item for a “mobile command unit” requested by the Clarke County Sheriff’s Department.
“That’s a toy that we don’t need” Dunning told the other Supervisors. “Maybe you need this kind of thing in New York City but not in good old Clarke County.”
Although grant funding for the mobile command center would make the line item “budget neutral” Dunning still expressed concern about related ongoing operational costs for the unit such as maintenance and manpower.
The Superviors conceded to Dunning’s request to remove the mobile command center line item before unanimously approving the remainder of the capital budget.
Grant to Spur Jobs and Business in Clarke
People Inc.’s president Robert Goldsmith asked the Supervisors to endorse a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) request that he said will provide affordable financing to approximately 18 micro-enterprises throughout the area and generate up to 40 jobs for low to moderate income families.
Goldsmith said that benefits from the grant will be distributed equally between Clarke and Warren County.
“The CDBG will establish a $340K loan fund that will be shared between the two counties” Goldsmith said. “The maximum loan amount is $35K.”
Under the CDBG grant, US Department of Housing will contribute $300K and People Inc. will contribute $150K.
People Inc. is a private non-profit corporation chartered in 1964 and provides opportunities for low-income people to improve their lives, families and communities. The organization’s mission is helping people move toward self-sufficiency and into the economic mainstream through building and acquiring assets and through educational assistance. People Inc. employs a staff of approximately 266 and has established two affiliate corporations that deliver development services throughout Southwest Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. In 2009, People Inc. assisted over 6,300 clients.
Goldsmith said that the CDBG funds will be offered as five year term loans at the prime lending rate to entrepreneurs with less than stellar credit scores who may not be able to obtain a loan from a commercial bank. Goldsmith said that the money is intended to establish nine new small businesses in both Clarke County and Warren County with the expectation of 40 new moderate income jobs.
Goldsmith told the Supervisors that over the past 18 years People Inc. had administered 16 similar loan programs and had achieved a 93% repayment rate.
“We see this as a valuable program for establishing an ongoing source of capital for small business loans in this area” Goldsmith said.
The Clarke County Board of Supervisors agreed with Goldsmith’s assessment by unanimously endorsing the CDBG grant application. Goldsmith plans to submit the grant next week and expects Federal approval sometime before the end of 2010.