BOTETOURT – Lean. That’s the word County Administrator Jerry Burgess used to describe the 2010-11 fiscal year budget that will be presented during a public hearing April 14.

The Board of Supervisors general fund budget committee is proposing cutting almost $2 million from the county’s general fund expenditures along with the $4 million in cuts to the school division—a total that’s just a bit shy of $6 million overall from the current county budget (a 6.7 percent reduction); and $8.5 million less than total expenditures in 2008-09 (a 9.3 percent reduction).

Each department—from Parks, Recreation & Tourism to Building and Zoning to Voter Registration—is affected by the cuts, as are all five constitutional offices.

The budget proposes cutting 10 of the 86 full-time positions and another three part-time positions (11.6 percent) that report to the county administrator’s office.

Burgess said several of the positions that report to his office are already vacant because of a hiring freeze. They have not been filled if an employee left.

The budget committee, which consists of Buchanan District Supervisor and Chairman Terry Austin and Amsterdam District Supervisor Steve Clinton, recommended the cuts despite an expected increase in local tax revenue because of the just completed real estate reassessment.

“It was a tough budget,” Burgess said, while at the same time commending the county’s department heads, the constitutional officers and the county school division. “I’ve never seen such cooperation,” Burgess said.

Burgess said when the county started its budget process in December he was concerned with what the state might do in light of the budget shortfall it expected. “They didn’t disappoint,” Burgess said.

The state cut $4.6 million to Botetourt—much of it for schools—but $534,000 for the five constitutional officers.

The proposed overall budget (including $49.4 million for all school expenditures) totals $82,891.801, down from the $88,867,098 current budget.

One plus, Burgess said, is the reassessment allows the county to put some money away in its Fund Balance—a savings account of sorts that has allowed the county to avoid raising (and in one case lowering) the real estate tax rate after a reassessment.

The county has lived off growth, Burgess said, and after each reassessment, the county has set aside money in the Fund Balance so it could pull from that account between reassessments.

In the current fiscal year, the county pulled $2.4 million from that account to balance the budget.

Being able to put $386,543 back into the Fund Balance is a big turnaround, Burgess said. But four years ago, the county was able to put $2 million in the fund balance after that reassessment.

Burgess noted the 9.4 percent increase in the assessed value of real estate in the county is the smallest increase in property values in recent memory. The county reassesses property every four years.

The budget committee is not recommending any increase in the tax rates—it’s recommending the real estate tax rate stay at 65 cents per $100 of accessed value. To offset the reassessment, the rate would have to be lowered 5 cents if the county was to get the same revenue as it did before the reassessment.

Burgess said county offices have reduced their operating costs to the “absolute minimum.” Everything from new computers to travel expenses have been cut.

The committee is recommending cutting capital improvements to $176,000—down $544,00 from the current year.

Burgess said the constitutional officers offices have “been hit big time.” The State Compensation Board has reduced its funding to those offices again.

Burgess said he thinks it will be necessary for the Board of Supervisors and School Board to meet jointly to discuss just where the county goes from here.

Neither he nor Austin expect this to be the worst budget year. Austin predicted next year will challenge the supervisors, school division and staff even more. One reason will be the loss of nearly $500,000 in tax revenue from JTEKT North America (formerly KOYO Steering Systems), which is closing this year.

In a memo earlier this year, Burgess addressed the probability of the county facing even tougher budget challenges in the future.

“The recommended FY11 budget represents a strong response to uncertain economic conditions and declining state revenues,” Burgess wrote. “While additional expenditure reduction measures may be necessary in future budgets, at some point we must ask ourselves what levels of service are acceptable and how much longer can capital and capital outlay expenditures be deferred.

“These are questions that both the Board of Supervisors and School Board need to address,” Burgess continued. “Because of the funding relationship between the boards and the current cooperative spirit existing between staffs and boards, a mutual consensus should be pursued prior to consideration of the FY 12 budget.”

The two public hearings on the budget are at 7 p.m. at Greenfield Education and Training Center just north of Daleville on US 220. Hearings will be held on the school, general fund and utility fund budgets, and a second on the proposed tax levies.

The supervisors are expected to act on the budget at their regular April 27 meeting.

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