The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has voted 4-2 to adopt a budget framework to help staff plan for the next five fiscal years.
The five-year financial plan is used to plan services in the near future by allowing staff to balance revenues and expenditures over the period.
“This whole process is to give [supervisors] a multi-year look based on the best information we have and a set of assumptions,” said County Executive Tom Foley. “Part of this process is to see if you are comfortable with these assumptions for this planning process and what we hope it does is drive some discussion about policy direction.”
Republican Supervisors Kenneth C. Boyd and Rodney S. Thomas voted against the plan because of the assumption of a tax rate increase in FY 2016.
“I can’t support this budget because I’m not prepared at this point to even think about a tax increase of any type,” Boyd said.
Fellow Republican Supervisor Duane Snow voted for the forecast.
“All we’re talking about is something that’s in there for planning purposes and next year we’ll look at it,” Snow said.
The plan assumes that the county will experience a 1.3 percent increase in revenues in FY2014 and that a growth trend will continue. Staff projects a 3.2 percent revenue growth in FY2018.
Just over half of the county’s revenues come from real estate taxes. The county is assuming a 1.5 percent decrease in property assessments in calendar year 2013 and a 2.25 increase in assessments in calendar year 2018.
The current tax rate is 76.2 cents per $100 of assessed real estate property value. The plan assumes a 0.7 tax increase in FY2016, which would raise an additional $1.1 million. That amount would be split between the school system, the capital improvement program and general government.
New revenues would also come from the implementation of new stormwater utility fees in FY 2015. Lori Allshouse, the county’s budget director, is assuming that would bring in as much as $500,000 a year, if approved, and would help free up funding for other projects or services.
The county would then be able to hire three stormwater inspectors to help ensure compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay clean-up program.
“We’re going to have more inspectors because we have to update our [Department of Environmental Quality] stormwater permit by July and that is going to put some conditions,” Foley said. “[Other localities] have gotten fines for not keeping up with inspections.”
Under this financial plan, the county would be able to hire one additional police officer in the next year, adding to a total of 10 new officers by 2018.
“This doesn’t meet all of the needs of the police department but it does keep up with where we are right now with relationship to population,” said Allshouse.
The plan would allow the county to plan on hiring two additional instructors for the Bright Stars pre-Kindergarten program for FY 2014. Four Department of Social Services positions would be created in FY 2016.
Under the plan, staff would be able to budget a 2 percent salary increase for county workers in each year.
“We are watching very carefully reductions in state and federal funding,” Allshouse said.
County staff will continue to monitor assumptions and will reconfigure the forecast annually.
“As we get off of the five-year and into the one-year planning process, we’ll take a fresh look at our revenues again, see how those assessments worked out, and we’ll be hopeful for good news,” Foley said.
Boyd said he understood that the plan is a way for the county to try to reach its goals, but that staff should try harder to either raise other revenues or decrease spending.
“One of the goals that we set a couple of years ago when we installed the economic vitality plan was to increase revenues to the county without having to increase taxes by having a better economy,” Boyd said. “Sales taxes are up. Meals taxes are up. Maybe our plan is working. We could tweak our revenue projections up a bit as a goal.”
When Allshouse said the plan already assumes those increases, Boyd urged her to be less conservative.
“There’s probably still some room for increased property taxes,” Boyd said.
However, Foley said staff was confident the five-year plan was solid.
“We feel like the assumptions in here are pretty valid,” Foley said. “We have a plan that does balance.”
A majority of the board agreed, and the adoption of the next fiscal year’s tax rate won’t occur until April.
“At the end of the day, every year we make a decision on what the tax rates are going to be and what the expenditures are going to be,” said Supervisor Dennis Rooker. “This does not preempt those decisions.”