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March 21, 2013

Fauquier schools to get $1.5-million budget hike

The “average” homeowner would pay about $35 more in real estate taxes next year under the plan.
I’m gonna speak up one more time on the part of employees. One-quarter of your workforce works a second job to try to make ends meet or to have what they want.
— County Administrator Paul McCulla
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During an agonizing, 90-minute session Thursday afternoon, Fauquier’s supervisors came close to agreement on a fiscal 2014 budget that would:

• Provide $1.5 million more in local funds for county schools.

• Raise the “average” homeowner’s annual real estate taxes $35. The tax rate of 97 cents per $100 assessed value would rise by a penny.

• Fund a special, early retirement program for firefighter/medics — because of their high-risk jobs — in hopes of improving recruitment for positions the county has struggled to fill.

• Give higher priority to construction of a public water system in Opal.

The board also seems close to agreement on 1.5-percent raises for county employees, if it can fund them without a greater tax hike.

“I’m gonna speak up one more time on the part of employees,” County Administrator Paul McCulla said during the lengthy debate about raises. “One-quarter of your workforce works a second job to try to make ends meet or to have what they want.”

Mr. McCulla’s budget recommendation called for 2-1/2 percent raises, a $2 million increase for schools and a 3.5-cent hike in the real estate tax rate. That would have cost the owner of a $313,000 home about $109 more annually.

County workers have fallen behind their peers, private sector employees and Social Security recipients, whose benefits have risen 14 percent since 2008, he said.

Of Center District Supervisor Chris Granger’s proposal to give county workers 1.5-percent raises, Mr. McCulla said: “It’s not even a matter of moving people forward, it is a matter of keeping them on a level playing field.

“On behalf of county employees, I would urge you to see if Chris’s plan is something you can live with.”

He reminded the supervisors that county workers will pay greater portions of rapidly-rising health insurance costs, absorbing 20 percent of premium increases in the new fiscal year.

“Think about the effect on your employees,” Mr. McCulla said. “Think about where they will go with health insurance (premium increases). I understand the other side of the coin . . . . But, think about their hopes and dreams . . . and the price.”

The board struggled with that issue.

“I’m not much inclined to raise taxes to raise salaries,” Peter Schwartz (Marshall District) said.

Lee Sherbeyn (Cedar Run District) said raising the tax rate — even another half-penny as Mr. Granger suggested — would make “private folks go backwards,” especially with so many struggling because of job losses or smaller incomes.

“I’m having a real hard time . . . because I think we’ve got great employees,” Mr. Sherbeyn said.

Holder Trumbo (Marshall District) agreed.

But, Chester Stribling (Lee District) — who had expressed support for a 1-cent tax rate increase to cover the board’s previous commitment to hire more firefighter/medics — said he might agree with Mr. Granger.

As the meeting ended, board members believed they could adjust the $155-million general fund spending plan enough to give 1.5-percent raises with going beyond a 1-cent tax increase.

The supervisors will reconvene at 2 p.m. Tuesday, March 26, to finalize their calculations and agree on a budget and tax rates.

Clearly, the school board will have to slice $3.6 million from Interim Superintendent Sandra Mitchell’s proposal. Job and program cuts again will get discussed at 6 p.m. Monday when the school board begins serious budget deliberations.

The supervisors had planned to adopt the county budget Thursday, March 28. But, mistakes in public notice advertisements for the budget public hearing have forced a schedule change.

State law requires the county to advertise budget and tax details at least seven days before the hearing, which took place Tuesday, March 19.

But, the full-page ad in the Wednesday, March 6, edition of The Fauquier Times-Democrat incorrectly listed the hearing date as Tuesday, March 19, 2012.

A week later, the newspaper incorrectly ran a 12-month-old ad — pulled from its archives — for last year’s budget hearing.

The Times-Democrat ran the correct ad Friday, March 22.

But, none of the three ads completely met requirements of state law.

So, the supervisors will conduct another budget hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 4, in the Warren Green Building.

By law, the board then must wait at least seven days to adopt the budget, planned for the supervisor’s regular monthly meeting on April 11.

The county also will run a full-page public notice in the Culpeper Star-Exponent, at a cost of $800, which The Times-Democrat has agreed to pay. The ads in the Fauquier paper cost $1,000 each.
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lhfry · March 23, 2013 at 7:42 am
I would want to know what the ratio of instructional (teachers in classrooms teaching standard disciplines) to non-instructional (administrators, guidance counselors, resources officers, etc.) is in the Fauquier County schools. Nationwide, costs for public schools have increased dramatically as hiring of non-instructional staff outpaces hiring of classroom teachers.
crc60 · March 22, 2013 at 9:26 pm
"County workers have fallen behind their peers, private sector employees and Social Security recipients, whose benefits have risen 14 percent since 2008, he said."

References please. You mention surveys taken in earlier correspondence... let's see them.

I can't fault the man for going to bat for the county employees, but the above statement challenges his credibility. No benefit increases, for the few that might have received them, have kept pace with rising food and fuel costs - the unreported hidden inflation no one wants to talk about. Most everyone is dealing with net loss of spending power here in Fauquier and most everywhere. Yes that's right most everyone, not just public employees.

Foreclosures are likely lower since the weak or unlucky have been culled already leaving the wise, stern or stubborn homeowners who are likely not to default because of courage, pride or morals. The good news for all of us is with the supply of foreclosures dwindling, home values may finally start to inch up. Why not let that be the raise in revenue you seek? County revenue tied to actual economic vitality... what a concept.

You mention turnover rate is on the rise as employees seek and find better opportunities. You've likely found the sweet spot then. Let it play out. For those who trumpet the great public salaries in PW and Fairfax, please go there, don't let the door hit ya, and enjoy the commute... oh that's right... long commutes suck. Better figure that cost and time into your valuation of your public salary here in good ole horse heaven Fauquier County. Don't confuse price with value.

Chuck
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