Members of the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors questioned growing government during a time of continued economic downturn during its first work session on the budget Thursday night in the colonial courthouse.
The questions come in advance of a public hearing scheduled on the proposed fiscal year 2014 budget at 7 p.m. Monday in the Gloucester High School auditorium.
County administrator Brenda Garton’s proposed $138 million fiscal year 2014 budget calls for a 4¢ increase on the county’s real estate tax rate as well as a $1.95 increase on the rate at which boats are assessed.
County administrator Brenda Garton said each penny of the real estate tax generates approximately $400,000 in additional revenue ($1.6 million for four cents), while the increase in the boat tax would add roughly $600,000 to the county’s coffers.
“I’m hearing the people say this concept of growing government is coming at the wrong time,” said York district supervisor Carter Borden.
His comments were targeted at a portion of the budget proposal that calls for reorganization of the county’s codes compliance department. A step in the reorganization fills the position of head of that department and classifies that employee as an assistant county administrator, which means a higher pay grade.
“It’s not the time to be filling positions and reorganizing when it’s costing money,” Borden added. “That equates to growing government.”
Borden also told Garton he wanted to see a comparison of what the proposed budget would look like with a 3¢ increase on the real estate tax rate; a 2¢ increase; a 1¢ and no increase so the board could make comparisons and decide what it was willing to cut.
“We had a 7¢ increase last year,” Borden said. “I don’t think we can go this way. The timing is so bad.”
He also questioned the timing of the pay and classification study of county employees that was presented recently. Garton estimates fulfilling the recommendations of that study will cost the county about $900,000 in the proposed budget.
Ware district supervisor Andy James echoed much of Borden’s remarks, saying he is hearing the same overall concerns from his constituents, especially dealing with the pay study. “I think we have like 352 county employees,” James said. “And I don’t think there are hardly and positions open now. We must be doing something right if people are working and happy.”
At-large supervisor Ashley Chriscoe said he would like to have seen an efficiency study go along with the pay study to see if county staff is at the level it needs to be. “Are we overstaffed; understaffed,” Chriscoe asked.
In addressing the concept of growing government, Garton said the county has actually lost positions since the economic downturn that began to impact the local government in 2008. “As positions became vacant, we froze them,” Garton said.
Later in the meeting, Borden said out of about 36,000 residents in the county, about 11,000 are taking advantage of some form of assistance from Social Services. “People are losing their jobs,” Borden said. “It couldn’t be a worse time for a budget presentation with a 4¢ increase.”
On another topic, several board members also questioned why the Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society was receiving more local dollars than the Gloucester-Mathews Free Clinic and Bay Aging, which oversees programs for senior citizens in the county.
Board members will hear a presentation during its next budget work session on April 3 about how the proposed $1.95 increase on the boat tax rate will impact the local economy.
The board of supervisors is scheduled to meet with the school board at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 28, in the Gloucester High School auditorium to discuss the budget and the county is expected to adopt its Fiscal Year 2014 budget April 16.
The proposed budget can be seen in its entirety on the county’s website, www.gloucesterva.info.