An increased county budget reflects a recovering local economy, according to Hanover’s top official.
Wednesday, Hanover County Administrator Rhu Harris introduced a proposed budget of $390.6 million to the board of supervisors (after presstime). According to a memorandum to the board, the budget reflects an increase of $18 million – or 4.8 percent – over last year’s budget, with increased investment in the county workforce, education, capital improvements and public safety without changing the current tax structure.
“The fiscal year 2015 budget is the first budget in five years to reflect what we all hope to be the recovery for our local economy and community,” Harris wrote to the board. “Our economic indicators are consistently showing that Hanover residents are returning to work, are spending in our retail stores and feel more secure about their home values.”
According to Harris’ letter to the board of supervisors, general fund revenues are increasing for the first time since 2008 by 3.3 percent, or $7.8 million, led by an increase in real estate tax revenue. Harris said the increase is the result of projected reassessment increases of 1.5 percent and new construction of 2 percent.
Last year, Hanover issued 595 building permits for new single family homes, the highest number seen since 2004.
Personal property and sales tax revenues also increased by $1.5 million and $2 million, respectively.
Harris also noted that in the past year, the county attracted more than $53 million in new commercial construction. The private sector workforce also expanded by 987 jobs, helping drop the county’s unemployment rate to 4.4 percent in December, a number in line with historic trends.
Harris has proposed increasing fees in two areas – building inspections and utilities, where user fees for water and sewage are proposed to rise 2.5 percent, or an estimated $14.64 a year for the typical household.
On the expenditure side, Harris has proposed increasing the public safety budget by $2.9 million. In response to a 5.5 percent increase in reported crime, Harris has asked the board for six new deputies. Two additional bailiffs are also called for in the proposed budget.
On the Hanover Fire/EMS side, Harris has requested six additional career firefighters, four to help place a ladder truck in service and two to help fill coverage gaps in rural areas.
On the capital projects side for emergency services, Harris has requested a $3.6 million investment in the county’s emergency radio communications system and $6.7 million to fund a replacement schedule for fire trucks and EMS vehicles.
Harris’ budget leaves in tact the school’s requested plan that accounts for almost half of the county’s spending in the upcoming fiscal year. The budget increases local funding to the schools by $2 million, while the state is expected to increase its allocation to Hanover by $6 million, most of which will go toward retirement costs.
The budget also funds a $24 million capital projects plan for the school system that would help pay for new buses, technology upgrades, and improvements “at most schools,” including HVAC repairs and upgrades, roof work, window replacements and bathroom renovations.
Harris’ budget funds a 2 percent merit pay increase for county employees and asks for a total of 20.7 new positions, including those previously listed under public safety. The budget also funds the first phase of adjusting minimum salaries, focusing specifically on public safety pay. The county would address minimum starting salaries for the remainder of the workforce in future budgets. But, overall, the county’s five-year financial plan calls for merit pay raises in three of the next four years.
“While always cautious I am optimistic about our future. This budget renews our investment in local government – moving our schools forward; providing for greatly-needed public safety staffing and equipment; adding operational efficiencies through technology improvements; and rewarding our dedicated workforce,” Harris wrote to the board.
Supervisors will hold a budget workshop March 5 and citizens will have an opportunity to weigh in on the county budget March 26. The board is expected to make a final decision April 9.