POWHATAN – After months of work and debate on the fiscal year (FY) 2020 Operating Budget, the Powhatan County Board of Supervisors approved the county’s portion last week with little fanfare.

During their meeting on Thursday, June 13, the supervisors unanimously approved the county portion of the budget, which totaled $36,371,346 net of transfers. The board had already approved the school division’s portion of the budget on May 9, which totaled $49,619,718. That is a combined total budget of $85,956,064 net of transfers.

While county administrator Ted Voorhees had presented the board with a balanced budget on March 4, a presentation a week later sparked debate about whether the county needed to hire more paid fire and rescue staff to provide adequate coverage. That presentation asked for $1.18 million in additional paid staff, which sparked debate and controversy in the weeks that followed.

In later meetings, conversations with the county’s volunteer firefighters considerably narrowed the fire and rescue requests down to those made by Companies 2 and 4: each asked to go from having a paid 12-hour firefighter shift on Monday to Friday to covering the position 24 hours a day, 365 days a week. Both for cost savings and because it takes time to hire new firefighters, the new positions will begin on Jan. 1, 2020, so the board only had to fund them for half a year in this budget.

These positions combined with additional staffing requested by the Powhatan County Rescue Squad added $525,845 to the budget. Other changes included funding a request for compensation for employees in the treasurer’s office who had been certified as Master Governmental Deputy Treasurers and funding a part-time employee for parks and recreation, said Charla Schubert, director of finance.

Funding $389,226 in new requests involved both a reassessment of revenues and some cuts to the budget in certain departments, Schubert said. The additional time the board took to work on the budget gave staff more time to review any supplemental real estate assessments due to new construction.

“I have to project out two years for personal property, so once the personal property book came out, I could compare that to my projection and we were able to make some tweaks on personal property,” she said.

In addition to reassessing revenues, staff made cuts to different departments ranging from $76 to $15,000, according to a spreadsheet she provided.

The resolution to pass the budget originally had language to also adopt the FY2020-2024 Five Year Capital Improvement Plan. David Williams, District 1, had the board separate the items at the beginning of the meeting.

He said he made that motion because several weeks earlier he had requested staff members give the board projections of how the CIP projects would impact the county’s debt capacity in each given year based on the projects and funding.

Carson Tucker, District 5, had gone a step further and asked about costs associated with the CIP projects – such as salaries for staff that would work at a new convenience center – and how those would impact the debt capacity.

Since the CIP is not required by state code to be adopted by a certain date, Williams asked to defer voting on it until the board could get that detailed information to make better decisions about what should realistically be on the list.

The county already knows what its debt schedule looks like and how it is supposed to staircase down each year as debt is paid off, he said. If you factor in a certain percentage the budget will grow each year, you can calculate how much debt is being proposed through the CIP and whether the county’s projected budget can handle it.

“Now you’ve got what your budget is, what your existing debt is, and then what is it you are going to layer in. … You need to know if the capacity is going to be there between what your proposed budget is going to be, where you are in your debt schedule, and then, if you layered this in, where will you be in relationship with your debt policy,” Williams said.

The board decided to defer action on the capital improvement plan until its meeting on July 29.

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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