Full Hanover County budget goes before board

Hanover County’s proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget appears fairly stable compared to the current year.

At Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, County Administrator Rhu Harris introduced a $372.6 million budget for FY14.

This figure represents a 1.3 percent increase over the current year, and the budget maintains services close to FY13 levels. However, operating expenditures are still down $22.5 million, or 9.7 percent, since FY09.

The proposed general fund, or operating budget, is $208.1 million, which is a 0.2 percent decrease from the current year.

Public safety, education, and human services comprise 77 percent of the general fund. Education alone is 50 percent.

The local economy is beginning to show signs of stabilization, Harris indicated, but real estate values are continuing to decline.

“Four years of budget reductions have required us to become more efficient. However, we have also had to reduce many of the service levels we take pride in and are known for,” Harris wrote in a letter to the Board of Supervisors.

“While I would like to begin restoring selective levels of service, at our current tax rate we can only maintain what we have until our revenue growth is more significant and sustainable,” he continued.

Harris is not proposing any tax increases. The real estate tax rate would remain at $0.81 per $100 of assessed value, unless the Board of Supervisors chooses otherwise. The board has the final say on the county budget.

Nearly half of the county’s departmental budgets would experience decreases from the current year, while nearly a third would increase by 1 percent or less.

The budget includes no salary increases for employees, but no layoffs or position reductions are anticipated either.

The Sheriff’s Office would effectively gain three additional deputies. Currently, these three positions are authorized but unfunded; they would receive funding in the FY14 budget under Harris’ proposal.

“Our workforce has continued to demonstrate their dedication to the citizens and the County,” Harris wrote. “However, the leaner organization that we are today comes at a cost to our workforce that is not reflected in the proposed budget.”

He continued, “Most, if not all, of the employees have assumed additional duties. … With the changes in our organization, pressures are building on our workforce and I am concerned about growing morale problems as employees take on additional responsibilities while continually falling behind in their take-home pay.”

In the public utilities realm, staff is recommending rate increases of 5 percent for water, 1 percent for sewer, and 2.5 percent for capacity.

The Public Utilities budget falls outside the general fund, as customer user fees and other fees generate its revenue, not tax dollars.

“This proposed budget attempts to sustain major services without raising property taxes on our citizens,” Harris wrote.

“This budget does not propose real estate tax increases on our citizens; however, we will have to address revenue alternatives if the recovery assumptions are not realized in the five-year plan.

“If these revenue assumptions are not achieved, we would need a modest 2 to 3 percent increase in funding sources to maintain service levels.”

He concluded, “It is our hope that we have seen the bottom of the real estate recession and that going forward our citizens will see appreciation in their homes and businesses. This, along with our economic development efforts, keeps me positive about the County’s future.”

The Board of Supervisors will hold budget workshops during its March meetings. A budget public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m., April 3 at the County Administration Building.

Posted on Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 11:01 am