Gloucester supervisors to revisit school funding issue

Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Jul 08, 2010 - 05:28 PM

The Gloucester County Board of Supervisors will revisit the concept of funding the county’s school system by category rather than provide a lump sum to fund the school budget.

The board voted 4-3 during its meeting Tuesday night in the colonial courthouse to place the discussion on its Sept. 7 agenda, where several members expect to hear a presentation from the school board of its position on categorical funding.

Ware District supervisor Gregory Woodard had asked the item be placed on Tuesday night’s agenda. Other board members Bobby Crewe (Gloucester Point), John Northstein (Petsworth) and Michelle Ressler (At-large) joined him in supporting further discussion of the matter in September.

County Administrator Brenda Garton compiled some information of Virginia localities that provide categorical funding to their school systems. She said 42 localities in Virginia have categorical funding, while 90 do lump-sum funding. In other words, she said 32 percent of Virginia localities fund their school systems by category and 68 percent by lump sum.

Woodard said he was concerned over the school board’s decision to ask the county for $800,000 in this latest budget cycle and then turn around and give $400 bonuses to school employees.

"There was no transparency (in that decision)," Woodard said. "The school board was reckless in its decision, in my opinion, to issue the $400 bonuses at a time we were struggling with a budget, and such actions hinder the ability of both boards working for the good of the county.

"I am not bringing this up as a political issue, but one of being fiscally responsible," he said.

Ressler said she supported categorical funding, but the board should make a decision on the matter by October at the latest, so the school board can be prepared when it begins next year’s budgeting process.

Northstein said Gloucester County did categorical funding until 1997-98. "Nobody ever squawked about it," he said. "My wife doesn’t give me a lump sum. I only get about $20 a week." He added that, "It’s not that we distrust, but we have to be very careful with taxpayers’ money."

Abingdon District supervisor Buddy Rilee said, "We’re fixated on what happened recently." He said to look back at past years when the school system gave thousands of dollars back to the county.

Crewe said September would also be a good opportunity to discuss consolidating some county and school departments as well.

Public utilities

Marty Schlesinger, director of public utilities, brought to the board Tuesday night some recommendations from the Public Utilities Advisory Committee on how to get the county utilities to be self-sustaining in the long run. One recommendation included implementing a water/sewer line installation inspection fee to provide some funding for the system. Other recommendations included transferring money from the general fund.

The board felt that the underlying issue why the utilities department was struggling is that the county cannot enforce mandatory hookup fees and that without the volume of customers this would generate, there would never be sufficient funding to sustain the system.

The board voted 6-1, with Rilee against, to have staff contact state representatives in the General Assembly to add Gloucester to the list of localities that can enforce mandatory hookups to public utilities. The board will further discuss the possibility of a mandatory inspection fee next month.

Reassessment

The board voted unanimously to hold a special meeting Aug. 24 to hear from and speak with the county’s internal assessment team, which is analyzing the latest reassessment. Several board members said they could not move forward with making a decision on the direction of future reassessments without hearing from this team of individuals who dealt directly with the process.

However, other supervisors, including Crewe, felt that waiting before taking any action was too long. "Tick-tock, tick-tock; here we go again … putting things off," Crewe said.

The board then voted 5-2, Rilee and Theberge against, in having the purchasing department issue an RFP (request for proposal) to investigate the cost of having an out-of-town service assess parcels in the county.

Other matters

In other matters, the board:

—Unanimously voted to accept the Virginia Association of Counties risk management settlement of $117,119.06 for court costs the county was ordered to pay by visiting Circuit Court Judge Westbrook Parker in September 2009. The case involved fees related to a civil case brought by 40 residents to remove four county supervisors from office;

—Agreed to apply for a hazard mitigation grant to acquire nine properties and fund 23 home elevations in the county. Paul Koll, building official, said 20 applications have been filed for the grant. It will cost $3,700 to prepare the application and conduct a cost-benefit analysis. However, if the county is awarded the grant, money for this will be included, and;

—Continued its meeting to Friday at noon when it will hold a retreat to discuss the county’s 350th Strategic Plan at Whitcomb Lodge, Beaverdam Park.