Tazewell County will end the 2019 fiscal year with money in the bank, and the board is looking to do the same in 2020.
County Administrator Eric Young outlined cuts and tax increases that added approximately $915,000 to a budget that was expected to have only $17,487 in reserves when the fiscal year ends June 30.
Increased revenue, a hiring freeze and the consolidation of other positions is set to boost the beginning fund balance of the 2020 budget to $1,010,000.
“Did we win? Is it over? Did we take care of business?” Young asked rhetorically during a public hearing on the proposed 2020 budget.
He attributed much of the gain to the hiring freeze started in 2017, lowering the regional jail bill and having the insurance cost for county employees come in almost exactly as projected.
The county placed a hiring freeze on all spending and hiring in the county April 3, 2018, and continued through November.
County employment numbers were also affected by the spending changes. Tazewell County lost one town attorney position, one engineer, one building inspector and three jobs in the information technology department. Custodians were also switched over to night shifts and the staff was reduced by two positions. The employees in the two cut custodian positions were given jobs elsewhere in the county government where there were open positions.
Young’s budget projects $396,661 in reserves for fiscal year 2020, but does not include a 3% pay increase for county employees or employees of the constitutional offices that are not covered by the state. The state budget contains a 3% raise for sheriff’s deputies, deputy clerks, treasurer’s office employees and other state employees. When the pay raises are added to the proposed 2020 budget, next year’s projected reserves drop to $14,556.
Supervisor Charlie Stacy and Board Chairman Travis Hackworth asked if the state will fully fund the raise or split the cost with the county. Young explained that the state compensation board decided how many employees were needed for a department and funded the salaries for those employees.
“If the comp board decides Tazewell County needs 20 deputies, they fund 20. If we want 25, we have to pay the other five,” Stacy said.
The board brought in financial consultants, Davenport and Associates, to conduct a study that revealed the county had one of the lowest cash reserves in Southwest Virginia, according to Young. The board paid the firm $10,000 for the project.
“Year after year, board after board we spent more than we were taking in, in order to avoid drastic cuts to education and other services,” Young said.
Young told the board that the way the county could end the year in the black and do everything needed was to fund capital projects with a line of credit.
“These are things that have been put off, and put off, and I am not comfortable putting off anymore,” he said.
A $3.8 million line of credit will allow Tazewell County to fix the courthouse HVAC system and other financial problems without increasing the county’s debt.
Davenport and Associates advised the county to take the loan and do the big-ticket items rather than try to do it when the county had cash on hand, according to Young. He said the HVAC at the courthouse used technology that was obsolete when it was installed in 2000.
The HVAC replacement is projected to cost $1.6 million. Constructing a fire and EMS station for Bluefield would cost $350,000, and an ambulance and equipment needs to be bought as well. The budget contains $100,000 in anticipation of fire equipment needs. Emergency generators for 911, fire department gear and new cruisers for the sheriff’s office are also on the list. The current budget proposal keeps tax rates the same as they are.
Young said a 30-year debt on the landfill will be paid off in October. That annual payment has been $219,000, and he believes the new line of credit can be obtained for that same amount or less.
The board voted to seek proposals for the line of credit.
Hackworth said the county is “going in the right direction,” and after no one spoke during a public comment period, the hearing was closed.
The projected budget is based on level funding the school system. However, the school system faces its own problem with employees who don’t get their pay raise from the state, Young said.
School officials indicated during budget committee meetings that they will have money to provide raises for teachers and other employees who are not funded by the standards of quality.
The school system is seeking to give its employees a 4% raise, which is funded by the state for teachers under the standards of quality.