Highland County Supervisors Struggle To Balance County Budget
Monterey, VA – Budget time is here again for the Highland County Board of Supervisors. As in previous years, hard choices will have to be made when it comes time to present a final county budget next week. The school budget is presenting a difficult problem this year.
At the same time the school revenues from the state are going down due to budget cuts and reduced enrollment, expenses are going up, the result of higher costs for the state retirement system and health insurance. In addition, the school system is now three steps behind in its salary scale for teachers. The result is that the Supervisors will have to provide nearly $200,000 more to the school system in order for the School Board to meet its projected budget. Supervisor Jerry Rexrode expresses his concern for the increase in the county’s share of the school budget.
“Well I’ve said all along Robin [Chairman Sullenberger] I don’t mind paying the school debt and $100,000.00 above that to the school system” says Rexrode. “And I don’t mind going more when you’ve got to pay $400,000.00 above that in the school debt; that’s a sizable chunk of money – you’re looking at $424,000.00.”
The school budget includes restoration of two of the teacher salary steps. Supervisor David Blanchard makes the point that if teachers receive salary increases that the Supervisors should consider increases for other county employees.
“Well I think there would be several things that we’re going to need to look at just for the sake of having it on paper” says Blanchard. “If we’re adopting a school budget that has increases in it, then we’re going to need to show a county budget on it. I think we could also look at a county budget that shows a decrease if we want to whittle across the board 2% or 1% decrease.”
In recent years, the Supervisors have been able to fund increases in the school budget from the surplus in the county general fund. However, the risk in continuing to do that is possible depletion of that surplus to the point that it has a negative impact on the stability of the county budget. There are always unexpected expenses that can come up at any time and the county needs a surplus in the general fund to deal with those when they occur. Supervisor Sullenberger makes the point that the Supervisors have been able to balance the budget in recent years without increasing taxes.
“One thing we can never be accused of with this board is gouging the taxpayers, because we’ve kept our tax rate in an incredibly low level and not increased it for the past several years” he says. “And we have one of the lower tax rates in the state particularly considering the issues that we have to deal with, with composite index. Most of the comments that I get from the public is we don’t know how you do what you do with the money you have to work with.”
He goes on to point out that similar budget problems are widespread in rural areas.
“This is not a problem exclusive to Highland County” says Sullenberger. “It is a rural problem in Virginia and a rural problem in this country. I just sat through a Council for Rural Virginia meeting last week where all these same issues that we’ve talked about all day today were talked about in depth for the entire rural portion of Virginia. The problem for Highland is that we’re exaggerated more than anybody in almost every one of these situations.”
The Supervisors have one more budget work session coming up on Monday April 4th to finalize the county budget. The next regular meeting of the Highland County Board of Supervisors will be Tuesday, April 5 at 7:30 PM in the Modular Conference Center in Monterey.