The start of the new year also welcomes the beginning of local government budget season. Botetourt County leadership has kicked off the fiscal year 2021 budget process by identifying major projects that require significant local investment. These projects are in addition to the costs of day-to-day operations and routine capital investments. So, in order to offset the costs of some of these investments, the county plans to use general fund savings, or fund balance, to reduce the amount needed for financing.
“Just like when anyone makes a big purchase, such as a house or a car, the county plans to use some of its savings to help offset the total amount needed to borrow for these large projects,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Billy Martin. “We want to make down payments on our future.”
Three areas have been identified for major investment in the coming years: infrastructure, education, and public safety.
In the near future, the county is preparing for the courthouse renovation project in Fincastle. The early estimates for this significant project are approximately $15 million, although the final scope of the project is yet to be determined. Furthermore, as a result of the courthouse project, the county is in the process of consolidating administrative offices at the Greenfield Education and Training Center in order to better serve the citizens and to make preparations for the larger courthouse renovation project. The consolidation of offices is expected to use existing funds from savings, and the county expects to bid the project this winter. “The current courthouse, how it stands in its present configuration, is reaching the end of its useful life,” said County Administrator Gary Larrowe. “The opportunity to find a long-term solution to the courthouse while also consolidating county offices for increased efficiency is a win-win.”
The county’s commitments to broadband expansion in the county are also of highest priority. With the success of the first round of the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) grant application earlier in the year with Craig-Botetourt Electric Cooperative, the county has now partnered with Lumos in order to perform another phase of fiber-to-the-home expansion. With a county contribution of approximately $400,000, total investment as a result of this second VATI grant would be more than $3.1 million if the grant is awarded.
In addition to infrastructure investments, the county is also continuing and increasing its support for the new Colonial Elementary School project. The Board of Supervisors approved the use of up to an additional $2.5 million for the school in June 2019. This added funding will help allow the new school to better meet future growth needs in Blue Ridge.
Lastly, the county is preparing to make large public safety investments in the coming years. The public safety radio system, which provides emergency and non-emergency communications capabilities across the county, is more than 20 years old and in need of replacement. Based on the experiences of other nearby localities, the cost for this radio system overhaul is estimated to be approximately $10 million. Planning for this project has already begun with implementation to occur over a number of years.
“The radio system is the backbone of the public safety world,” said Chief of Fire and EMS Jason Ferguson. “Our current system is good, but with so much that has changed in 20 years, we know that it is time to upgrade the system and bring it into the 21st century.”
All of these investments will be subject to both staff and board review during the budget development process this winter and spring. It is anticipated that the board will hold a public hearing on the budget in April.