Highland Board of Supervisors April Meeting

Along with robins, peepers and green grass, other sure signs that spring has arrived are budget discussions and negotiations. These were in full bloom during Tuesday evening’s Highland Board of Supervisor’s meeting.

Joe Neil, chairman of the Highland County School Board, was in attendance at the meeting. He indicated that he had heard “through the grapevine” that the Supervisors intended to cut the school budget as presented, and was on hand to answer questions. Board chair David Blanchard told Mr. Neil that the supervisors had reservations about a couple areas, including debt retirement and technology, and asked if there was any room for movement. Neil responded that this was his fourth year on the school board, and this was the first time he felt that a true budget, with careful analysis of past expenditures and necessary cuts, had been submitted, and it was one he could defend. He noted state mandates required increases in retirement for employees, as well as step increases, and that the budget also included a 2% increase for employees, which he felt was duly deserved. At one point,  Highland ranked 132 out of 133 Virginia counties in teacher compensation, and has difficulty attracting educators. He also pointed out the addition of several programs, including vocational, handwriting, STEM and certification classes.

Supervisor Kevin Wagner noted the Board was uncomfortable with the county being asked to absorb the losses from state funding, most especially the $100,000 in debt service, and that the Board was merely giving due process in validating the school’s budget requests, as it does all departments asking for funding.

In a broader budget sense, Wagner pointed out that county revenue had increased $60,000 this year, the largest since he had been on the Board, and the proposed teacher salary increases, which would likely be matched for county employees, would more than eradicate that growth. Supervisor Lee Blagg noted that in the county budget, expenses exceeded revenue by $467,000, an amount that would have to be accounted for from the general fund savings, barring a tax increase.

In another budget request, Deputy Ronald Wimer addressed the Board with a request for funding to upgrade the 911 center’s telecommunication systems. The original system had a life expectancy of five years, which expired in 2011. Wimer reported a grant had been procured for a portion of the costs, and he had waited to implement the upgrades for better pricing. He received a lesser quote from communications company Carousel for equipment, installation and maintenance. The Board voted to authorize Wimer to move ahead, pending review of the proposed contract by County Attorney Melissa Dowd.

And, during supervisor comment period, outgoing member Lee Blagg noted that the time and effort required of supervisors to attend to the work of the county had increased enormously just in the period he had spent on the Board, and compensation had remained the same for a long period of time. He noted that the Highland Board was the lowest compensated in the state, and made a motion that the monthly stipend for the Board be increased from $150 to $250 per month, beginning July 1st, which was approved.

The Board set a work session for Monday, April 13th at 7:30 to review and finalize the budget.

In other business, the Board heard reports from Social Services director Sarah Rexrode and Highland Sheriff Tim Duff on their departments’ activities for the month of March. They adopted proclamations in recognition of National County Government Month and Local Government Education Week, and made several appointments to the Local Emergency Planning Committee.

The meeting ended with a closed session for personnel.

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle. scott@amrmail.org

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