Highland Board of Supervisors Budget Work Session
Historically, the Highland Board of Supervisors budget work sessions take place in a vacuum, not because of any secret meetings or agendas, but because there is generally little audience to witness the procedure. That was anything but the case this week, as the county modular building was standing room only to witness the process. And while the normal agenda for work sessions does not allow for public commentary, it was obvious that such a consideration was called for in this instance, and the supervisors allowed the public to speak, which turned the session into a needed opportunity to both vent frustration and educate, on both sides.
The meeting began with County Administrator Roberta Lambert reporting on the budget numbers as they stood.
The board then opened the floor for commentary, which covered a number of topics. The main focus of discussion was the Highland Rescue Squad, and the salaried EMS Coordinator. Many speakers took issue with current employee Chris Vernovai, and the intended efforts to incentivize squad participation, saying both the personnel and results were not satisfactory, Several wondered whether the position could be eliminated, or reduced to part time. Chair Kevin Wagner provided perspective by explaining that the Supervisors had received word from the Office of the Medical Director that without efforts to professionalize the squad, it would be decertified. For a while, Augusta County was assisting with calls, but they cost $1,000 each time they visited, and eventually cited lack of manpower to be able to continue. He also explained that no funding was included in the budget for additional personnel – this idea was something they had asked Mr. Vernoavai to explore if it was necessary, but no positions were being added. The EMS position would remain in the budget, to keep the squad operational, but the Supervisors assured the audience they had heard and were aware of concerns, which would be investigated further. Supervisor Harry Sponaugle expressed an issue with the $12,000 earmarked for the squad incentive program, and it was removed.
Several commentators also spoke in support of restoring the requested $114,000 reduction in the school budget, including Superintendent Dr. Thomas Schott, who reiterated his earlier arguments that he had been tasked on his arrival with bringing the budget under control, which he had done, and his request now was for level funding from the county. The Supervisors responded by noting that while county funding was level, the budget itself had increased. They pointed out that in the past, unused funds had been returned by the school to the general fund, but that this was not the case now, and that the previous line item for paying for the school’s construction was now being rolled into operations. They also noted again that $60,000 of the requested reduction would be used to create a capital fund for future school needs. School administrative assistant Karen Devore responded to the Supervisors thatin the past, the system had had part time administrators, which was not the case now, and that the schools had always been good stewards of taxpayers money.
Also noted in public commentary was the loss of revenue, both personally and county-wise, from the change of route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
As public commentary closed, Mr. Wagner asked the other Board members for a motion to adopt the budget. Mr. Sponaugle asked that the $5,000 increase in funding for the recreation Commission be removed, and that was agreed upon. Then, as the discussion moved to revenue, the supervisors proposed an increase in $.25 on personal property tax and a $.02 increase on property tax. The motion to adopt the amended budget was made and approved. The motion to accept the enterprise budget for trash removal, containing no changes, was also made and approved. The public hearing for both of these was set for Thursday, April 21st at 7:30 pm at the courthouse in Monterey.
For Allegheny Mountain Radio, this is Scott Smith.