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No tax hikes in Middlesex

by Larry S. Chowning

See proposed FY10
county budget on page B6.

The Middlesex County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to hold a public hearing on the upcoming 2009-10 (FY10) county budget that includes no tax increases.

The board is still $315,000 short of balancing the proposed budget and will wait until after the public hearing on Tuesday, April 21, to decide how to make up the $315,000 shortfall. Supervisors must decide whether to provide the $315,000 from the county fund balance or make further cuts in the proposed budget.

The proposed FY10 budget reflects an overall 6.7% decrease in funds compared to the current FY09 budget. This decrease includes $325,000 or 5% less in local school funding.

The overall 6.7% cut is projected to save $1.3 million over the current $17 million FY09 county budget, said Culley.

The board is already using money from the fund balance (surplus) to pay for an $800,000 shortfall in the current FY09 budget. This shortfall is due to lower-than-expected real estate tax revenues.

One county position is eliminated in the proposed FY10 budget. The remainder of the $1.3 million in cuts is coming from a 5% across-the-board cut in each county department, except those that are mandated by the state and cannot be cut, said Culley.

At an April 2 budget work session, Culley recommended cutting three jobs from the county payroll as a way to save funds in FY10. This brought lukewarm response from some supervisors.
Jamaica District supervisor Wayne Jessie and board chairman Bob Crump were opposed to cutting county jobs to balance the budget. They favored using $315,000 from the county fund balance.

Pinetop District supervisor Fred Crittenden indicated he wants Culley to find ways to cut the proposed budget further to make up for the $315,000 shortfall.
“If we are going to spend money from the fund balance, we need to spend it on Broad Creek,” Crittenden said. (The channel at Broad Creek in Deltaville is shoaling in and needs to be dredged.)

“I don’t think putting $600,000 into Broad Creek will put this budget where it needs to be,” responded Crump.

Crump said he feels the overall economy will rebound to some degree because of the stimulus money being allocated by the Obama Administration and Congress.

“I’m glad you believe in that more than I do,” said Crittenden. “We need to look for more ways to cut costs.”

Before setting the tax rate on Tuesday, supervisors got some financial advice from retired county extension agent and local businessman W.D. Edwards of Saluda.

Edwards suggested that supervisors think in terms of cutting the county budget rather than raising taxes.

Edwards has lived in Middlesex for 52 years. He is a large landowner, farmer and, with his two sons, owns and operates Carlton and Edwards Lumber Company near Warner.

“I’m not coming to you to ask for money,” Edwards said. “I’m here to tell you that you need to cut spending. The economy is so bad that we have had to cut our men’s work at the [saw] mill to three and a half days a week.

“I read in the paper where the county cut an employee in the planning department,” continued Edwards. “Well, you cut his job and then gave him a job in another area. That’s not cutting jobs.”
Edwards reminded supervisors that many people have lost half or more of their retirement savings due to the downswing in the stock market, and that the nationwide unemployment rate is at 8.5%—the highest it’s been since the Great Depression.

“Look around at what’s happening. When companies like Circuit City and Lehman Brothers, one of the oldest banks in America, go out of business, things are rough,” said Edwards.

“If you don’t pay attention, I’ve got a feeling the next election is going to clean house and that will include the administration,” he said.

The only supervisor to respond to Edwards was Pine-top District supervisor Kenneth W. Williams, who later in the meeting noted that just under 10% of the population in Middlesex County is on food stamps.

“That’s an education on what’s going on out there on the streets,” said Williams. “I agree with W.D. This is no time to be raising taxes.”

A more detailed story on the proposed county budget will appear in the April 16 Sentinel.

posted 04.08.2009

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