Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Follow the money

Follow the money

Goochland County Administrator John Budesky presented his proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, to the Board of Supervisors on February 21. Budesky compiled the spending plan after detailed discussions with all entities funded all or in part by the county since he came on Board last summer.

This kicks off the county’s budget season, even though the process is ongoing. The tug of war between the recommendations and requests will be resolved by the supervisors when they adopt a final budget and set calendar year tax rates in April.

As proposed, the total FY2018 budget is $80.2 million, up 10 percent from the current year. Overall revenues are expected to increase by 4.9 percent, with personal property tax, levied on items like vehicles and boats, generating the largest gain of 8.5 percent.

The good news, and there is lots of it, is that the tax rates—53 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for real estate and 32 cents for the Tuckahoe Creek Service District ad valorem tax—will likely remain unchanged for calendar year 2017.

Property values have appreciated a little, so those rates represent a modest tax increase.

Some residents believe that our tax rates, the lowest in the region, are too low, that they should be raised to provide additional revenue for basic county services. Others contend that the rates are so high that it is difficult for land owners at the lower end of the wage scale to keep up with their taxes. They question the justification for some county expenditures. Both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum must be kept in mind when managing tax dollars.

The per capita income used in the proposed budget, taken from last year’s certified annual financial report (CAFR) is somewhat misleading. This number is derived by dividing the total income by the number of residents. Goochland’s population is about 22,000, and we have a generous handful of very affluent residents whose income skews this number way out of proportion.

Services provided by government are not funded by fairy dust. Levying taxes and spending the revenues they generate requires responsible, careful, and honest stewardship by our elected and appointed officials.

The proposed budget includes raises, longer hours at the convenience centers, some new employees, and the continuation of the of technology update, that enables excellence in finance.

Several budget workshops; a public hearing; and three town hall meetings in March; will be held to gather public input on the county’s spending plans.

Details of the proposed budget have been posted on the county website http://goochlandva.us/ for review and comment. The proposed budget contains lots of interesting information about Goochland as well as charts and graphs to make the data more accessible. Budesky and the supervisors welcome any and all comments and suggestions about the budget. Please take few minutes to review the document.

During the February 21 workshop, Goochland Sheriff James L. Agnew, whose department requested five additional deputies, talked about law enforcement in the county.

Growth in the Broad Street corridor, still mostly in Henrico, generated an increase in DUI and traffic related incidents. The Rt. 288/Broad Street Road interchange wins the prize as the site of the most recorded wrecks in Goochland. Congestion there will only get worse and bring more vehicle accidents and other situations requiring the attention of law enforcement.

Agnew also asked for five additional dispatcher positions to staff the new emergency communications center, which is expected to be operational in the summer. (The proposed budget for the Sheriff’s Office includes two new dispatchers and one deputy.)

Dispatchers are the nerve center of emergency operations in the county. They answer 911 calls and deploy appropriate people and equipment, both law enforcement and fire-rescue to an emergency scene. This is not an easy job and its value to the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens cannot be overstated. The addition of emergency medical dispatch, providing instructions to treat callers until EMS arrives, is a goal, but requires adequate communications staffing. “Dispatchers multitask,” Agnew explained. “An emergency medical dispatcher must be dedicated to a single call until it is resolved.”

Fire-Rescue Chief Bill MacKay reported that a precipitous decline in volunteer participation in delivery of fire-rescue services necessitated an acceleration of hiring career providers. Recently, the supervisors approved filling positions authorized for July 1 as soon as possible.

Goochland fire-rescue volunteers are amazing people who give huge amounts of time and talents to serve our community. Given the increasing complexity of fire-rescue response and the demands of modern life, fewer people are willing or able to meet the training and duty requirements.

Other budget highlights include a reduction in some fees to make Goochland more competitive with our neighbors. Cost recovery fees for EMS hospital transport, however, will go up. As volunteer participation in delivery of fire-rescue services continues to decline, the need for paid personnel to ensure prompt response to 911 calls continues. The supervisors recently authorized an acceleration in the hiring of additional career fire-rescue providers.

Director of Finance Barbara Horlacher explained that these increase bring Goochland’s cost recovery fees into line with neighboring jurisdiction. Funds realized from this program offset some of the cost of hiring additional career fire-rescue personnel

Goochland earned a AAA bond rating a few years ago, a noteworthy achievement for a small county government plagued by financial dysfunction only a few years earlier. Fiscal policies in place today disburse money carefully and track every penny. Credit card statements and check registers for the county and school division are posted on the county website. Questions about any expenditure will be responded to in a fast and open manner.

The capital improvement plan (CIP) addresses big ticket items (costing more than $50,000 with a relatively long useful life) including a new school; another fire-rescue station in West Creek; a new east end ladder truck; extending Fairground Road to Rt.6, which will require relocation of athletic fields to the Central High School and Cultural Center grounds; and a replacement for Goochland’s venerable circuit courthouse, which has served the county since the early 1800s.

As the east end of the county grows, the rest of Goochland, approximately 85 percent, according to the 2035 Comprehensive Land Use Plan, is expected to remain rural. To support that, the proposed budget includes a $14,000 increase in support for the Monacan Soil and Water conservation District. This agency provides direct assistance and policy advice to farmers about protecting soil and water quality.

Additional funds are allocated to the Virginia Cooperative Extension to open Goochland office for 20 hours per week. This agency supports our farming community—you want rural, you need farmers—students, and residents with services like water quality testing and the Master Gardner program.

The proposed budget includes an increase of $670,000 in funding for Goochland Schools. Go to http://goochlandschools.org/ under the school board tab for complete information about the approve school budget for FY18.

Tax dollars spent close to home have the greatest impact on you daily life. Please take the time to see where your money goes.

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