Southampton proposes $56.2 million budget

Published 9:29 am Saturday, May 17, 2014

COURTLAND—A $3.75 million increase in revenue would be needed for next fiscal year, according to Southampton County’s proposed $56.2 million budget. A recommended 2-cent real estate tax increase would be devoted to fire and emergency services. The public can comment on this starting at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 19, in the Board of Supervisors room at the administration office in Courtland.

In his message about the proposed budget, County Administrator Mike Johnson first points out that in fiscal year 2014-2015, Southampton will begin to see the benefits of economic development through Dominion Power biomass conversion as well as AMAC and Enviva. They have yielded $1.1 million in new new property tax revenues. Other money sources include fees for ambulance services, enforcing speed limits, shared revenue with Franklin, personal property taxes. Further, about $2 million in state funds are predicted, over half of which could be devoted to the public schools.

The Southampton County School Board has requested $31.2 million, which would be 55 percent of the total county expenditures.

Johnson said the initial budget could pay for several teachers, finance five new school buses as well as fund a 2 percent cost of living increase for school personnel.

While there’ll be no cost of living adjustment for county employees, the pay scale will be adjusted taking into account the 5-year Virginia Retirement System phase-in, and shifts the workers to the next step based on their tenure.

There’s $225,000 to bolster the EMS contract with Medical Transport, per the request of the Fire and Rescue Association. ALS service providers would be placed at Boykins, Capron and Ivor every weekend from 6 a.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Monday.

Johnson also explained his reasoning for the tax increase.

“As our method of providing emergency medical services continues to evolve and expand, I’ve suggested establishment of fire/EMS zones county-wide, as provided for in Section 27-23.1 of the Code of Virginia, and am recommending that the Board levy an additional 2 cents real estate tax to support fire and EMS operations,” he stated.

Even if the tax increase is passed, that would still put Southampton County’s rate as the lowest in Western Tidewater. Suffolk is $1.03 per $100; Franklin is .90 cents per $100; and Isle of Wight will be 85 cents per $100 effective the start of the new fiscal year, Tuesday, July 1. That’s a 12-cent increase from the .73 cents per $100.

In looking over the draft budget, The Tidewater News asked Johnson and other personnel some questions about items that stood out.

Under Other County Sources in the revenue estimates, there is no transfer from the General Fund Reserve.

“The proposed budget is not dependent upon the use of any reserve funds to balance in FY 2015,” he said. “The unappropriated general fund reserve balance is projected to decrease to approximately $3.7 million by the end of FY 2014, which equates to approximately 12 percent of our annual operating budget.

“Conventional wisdom is for local governments to maintain reserve fund balances of between 10 and 15 percent of their operating budgets in order to meet seasonal shortfalls in cash, secure and maintain investment-grade credit ratings and reduce susceptibility to emergency or unanticipated expenditures, or to revenue shortfalls.”

Under the Enterprise Revenue category, there is a 68.12 percent increase in fees/connections from the current fiscal year ($55,815). This, said Johnson, is the result of the connection of Enviva’s new pellet mill to county water and sewer services.

Under the Building Fund, there is a $226,000 increase in the carryover in the utility reserve from this fiscal year.

“The total unappropriated Building Fund balance is projected at $626,903, which represents utility and meals taxes that have been collected in previous fiscal years, but not yet expended,” he said. “The vast majority of this sum ($399,500) is being held in escrow for future capital projects and expenditures by volunteer fire departments and rescue squads. The remaining balance is available for capital projects and/or debt service, as necessary.”

In the Expenditure Estimates, there’s a 23.6 percent increase in the Board of Supervisors’ budget.

“Overall, the increase in the Board of Supervisors operating budget is $49,788,” said Johnson. “The draft budget includes $55,000 to update the County’s Pay and Classification Plan, which was last updated in 2005. Otherwise, their budget would’ve decreased slightly.”

Asked about the category of Non-Departmental Operating, he explained, “Non-Departmental Operating represents local tax revenues that are collected by the County and shared with the City of Franklin in accordance with a 1996 revenue sharing/annexation immunity agreement. Under the terms of that agreement, the County shares 30 percent of the local tax revenues derived from businesses or industries located within a specific geographic area, and that are served by City water or sewerage services. The increase is expected to be generated by the repurposing of the former Converting Innovation Center by Hampton Farms.”

The budget for delinquent tax collection is proposed at $23,726, which is $11,767 more than this year.

Treasurer David Britt said, “There has been an increase there. We’re trying to push more on the collection of the delinquencies, we do have an increase in them. We’re also trying to increase the number of hours for the part-time help, and when you increase hours that includes FICA taxes and all those things that go along with it. We’re also increasing postage because more notices are being sent out. Also we added a little bit of office supplies as well.”

Although the Inspections Department had merged with Franklin in an effort to save money, there is a 116.5 percent increase in budget expenses from this fiscal year. Beth Lewis, the deputy director of Community Development, said, “The two departments have become a shared services department, so the costs are shared.”

Johnson elaborated.

“The increase in expenditures for Inspections is primarily driven by two things: 1) A modest rebound in permit activity; and 2) Implementation of the Virginia Stormwater Management Program (VSMP).

“That said, objectively calculating the benefits of shared services requires a little more comprehensive evaluation. In fiscal years 2010 and 2011, our budgeted cost of service delivery for community development was slightly more than $400,000 annually.

“Based on the slowdown in permit activity, we downsized in FY’s 2012 and 2013 by reducing the size of our staff. In FY’s 2014 and 2015, we’ve begun to buy back that capacity in response to the uptick in permit activity, but are now sharing it with the City on a proportional basis.

“In addition, we’ve added two full-time employees to manage the new stormwater program. Overall, our FY 2015 budget for Planning and Inspections (i.e., Community Development) is only 5.34 percent more than it was in FY 2011, and we’re now managing the VSMP locally with two additional full-time employees. Our cost of service delivery would’ve been substantially higher had we not initiated shared services with the City.”

Asked about the 16.74 percent increase in School Food Service and Non-Operating Facilities, Linda Drake said, “The decrease in the Revenue from the Commonwealth for Food Services is projected at $2,223, which represents an 8.54 percent decrease in state funding for Food Services. Estimates are based on meals served the prior year.

“School Food Health Insurance is partially funded by the local operating budget. This expenditure category was increased by $10,387 or 16.74 per cent to cover the increase in health insurance rates and participation.”

The Southampton County Historical Society is hoping for $5,000 in its next budget.

Lynda Updike, president, said, “Last year we asked for $20,000, and got $13,500. I asked for 20,000 again and got 18,500.”

The money will be dedicated to the Rebecca Vaughan House, which she said is on the national and state registries of historical places. An archeological dig had to be done and the Department of Historic Resources said to make the building as it was.

“The Rebecca Vaughan House is an ongoing expense and there’s a lot yet to be done,” added Updike. “The exterior is done. The foundation, chimneys and interior has to be done, exhibits as well. Two rooms will be furnished as they were 1831, including an interactive map of the Nat Turner Route.

“We are working on a request for a proposal for an app as a guide for the walking tour in Courtland. Later there’ll be another for a driving tour and an RFP for a paper brochure.”

Dallas Jones, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, was asked about the proposed budget.

“I’m satisfied with the budget as it is. We have a good budget,” he said. “I would have liked to have seen employees get the increase they deserve. We can’t do it right now. We’re doing what we can. Other than that, the budget is fine.

“We would like to get rid of $200 trash fee as soon as possible, but we’ve got it there for a reason,” added Jones.

A budget work session is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 20. The budget adoption is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 27. Both will be in the aforementioned location. To read more about the budget, visit The link to the initial draft budget is on the home page.