Budget follies continue
Linda Underwood was right. The Goochland board of supervisors did, for all practical purposes, set the 2011 tax rates at their Tuesday, March 1 meeting. The tax rate to be advertised in coming weeks remains at 53 cents per $100 of assessed valuation the same as last year even though county revenues are expected to decline further from their 2010 levels.
The supervisors have backed themselves into a tight fiscal corner. Worse, they’ve made a mockery of their supposed conversion to governmental transparency. Several budget workshops on the capital improvement plan are scheduled for March as is the formal public hearing on the budget.
These are all window dressing because the only change they can make to tax rate when the official vote is taken on April 5 is to approve an even lower rate. Although there are opportunities for the public to express opinions on the prosed budget, the vote to advertise the 53 cent rate signals that it is a done deal.
In previous years, the supervisors have advertised a higher rate than that which they eventually adopted providing a little eleventh hour wiggle room.
The proposed budget for fiscal year 2011-12, which begins on July 1, 2011, is available on the county website www.co.goochland.va.us. Please take some time to review this document. It contains a great deal of interesting and useful information.
The proposed school budget, which was not based on expected revenues, is not so easy to find. The supervisors complained that they found the school budget documents submitted to them was difficult to understand and not organized by line item. The proposed school budget is not prominently displayed on the school website www.glndk12.va.us.
Both citizen comment periods included advocates and detractors of a tax rate increase. Parents of children in county schools implored the supervisors to fully fund the proposed school budget, which requests more than $1 million more than expected revenues from the 53 cent rate.
Wayne Allen, a lifelong fire-rescue volunteer, told the board that the proposed fire-rescue budget would force volunteers , who already devote a huge amount of time to training and responding to calls, to spend even more time raising money to fund their respective fire-rescue companies. He voiced concern about the lack of contingency funding for unforeseen emergencies.
Another speaker contended that Goochland spends about $11,000 per student, which should be enough to fund an acceptable level of education. That seems to be a reasonable statement, but unless you’re a school budget wonk, it’s hard to know if that is so. Goochland’s school system is relatively small, about 2,000 students, so economies of scale that help larger systems like Henrico or Chesterfield are not applicable here.
Other department heads seemed resigned to function on shriveled budgets.
Little consideration seems to have been given to the possible impact of soaring gasoline prices on county operations. Are we going to return to the bad old days when the supervisors approved a budget that seemed fiscally prudent on the surface but when a department ran low on dollars, made supplemental appropriations to keep things running?
Perhaps this draconian budget will be the two by four that gets the board to seriously consider investigating options for legal remedies to recover the cost of the county’s fiscal dysfunction from the former auditing firm.
Recovering at the least the cost of the 2009 Comprehensive Annual financial Report (CAFR) and the $424,000 the county was forced to expend to understand its own utility system would slow the financial bleeding in the FY 2012 budget. However, any additional revenues that flow into county coffers must be expended proportionally, not given exclusively to the school system.
Once again, the lack of a coherent economic development plan was brought into sharp relief by the budget. As the incredible shrinking budget degrades county service levels attracting the kind of economic development needed to pull Goochland out of its fiscal dilemma becomes less possible.