The Board of Supervisors will consider whether to add an agriculture development position as part of its budget deliberations this spring, and it will likely agree with the Fire and EMS Department to do some shifting with overtime and compensatory time and part-time employees to add three career full-time positions.
The board’s General Fund Budget Committee directed county staff to include the agriculture development position under the county’s new Department of Economic Development when the committee met last week at the start of its 2017-18 (FY18) budget development process.
A final budget recommendation from the committee is still a ways off. The committee is chaired by Buchanan District Supervisor John Williamson III and includes Fincastle District member and board chair Jack Leffel. It will meet again the end of this week and doesn’t expect a final recommendation for the full board before sometime in April.
Still, the budget committee is expected to recommend level funding for the Botetourt County school budget. The School Board has assumed the same in its budget deliberations.
The budget committee avoided a “trip wire” members and county staff were worried about during their Friday morning session when they learned the 2 percent pay raise Botetourt gave employees last year meets the mandate for a 2 percent pay raise in the updated state budget.
There was concern the county might be forced to give another 2 percent raise— that the supervisors had not expected— in the FY18 budget even after giving a raise last year that the state did not fund its share of.
Instead, the county has met its obligation for FY18, and is in a position to make its own decision on how to proceed.
When a draft of the staff-prepared General Fund budget reached the supervisors’ budget committee last Thursday morning, County Administrator Gary Larrowe said budget requests had already been cut by $1.5 million.
“The departments are doing a great job of tightening up,” he said during Friday’s second budget session.
The draft budget was just over $30 million and under the $30.5 million approved budget for the current fiscal year.
Adding the agriculture development position will cost about $102,000 without support costs, Larrowe said.
The committee discussed the idea of adding the position in light of the recent Agriculture Study that was done two years ago and the emphasis the county is trying to place on developing a stronger agricultural economy.
The intent is to not focus all economic development in the southern end of the county, Williamson said, which is in line with the supervisors’ strategic plan for the area from Fincastle north to have industry associated with agriculture— like Ballast Point Brewery and Spirits.
Leffel said promoting agriculture development would provide the opportunity to get ag people back in the county.
“We’ve got the ag giant up in Blacksburg,” Williamson said in reference to Va. Tech, “with hundreds of millions in spending up there related to agriculture research. We ought to be able to find a way to get some of that here.”
Larrowe was careful to note the agriculture development position would not be related to the Extension Service office. “This is a separate animal (from Extension) focusing on economic development. It would be unique to the region,” he said.
“Other communities give lip service (to agriculture development),” Williamson continued, to which Leffel added, “It would bring theory to the field.”
Larrowe noted agriculture is Virginia’s largest industry, adding “We’re not plugged into this.”
Williamson cautioned that having an agriculture development position would make for a four-person Economic Development Department— a department that didn’t exist 18 months ago. Two positions in the department were shifted out of tourism.
Williamson said the supervisors “made a big deal” out of agriculture in developing its strategic plan, held meetings, talked to producers and produced an agriculture study and report. “We haven’t done anything since,” he said. “I think we need to figure out how to make it work.”
Larrowe said with the sentiment to see the position in the budget, his staff would “focus in on how to make it work.”
Making the three new full-time fire and EMS positions work won’t be as difficult.
The three full-time positions will reduce the county’s compensatory and overtime obligations dramatically, and will reduce the need for part-time help to fill in, Management Assistant Cody Sexton told the committee.
The county expects to have to budget another $20,000 for salaries, with another expected $10,000 for equipment.
The committee also directed staff to figure on adding $200,000 net to the budget to prepare to purchase three fire apparatus for Fire & EMS using a lease/purchase plan over five years.
Fire and EMS will be shifting around some existing equipment with the purchase of the three apparatus that will better meet the needs of the various fire departments. The three are expected to cost about $1.4 million total. The county has budgeted $400,000 for apparatus, but will reduce that to $300,000 with the lease/purchase plan.
The budget committee will continue to meet until it finalizes a budget that it will take to the full board in late April. The full board is expected to act on a budget on May 2, with appropriations in June.