The Gloucester County Board of Supervisors will hold an electronic public hearing on its FY2021 budget and accompanying tax rates at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
An online form for public comment is available at www.gloucesterva.info/citizencomment and the hearing will be streamed live on the county’s website.
The advertised real estate tax rate of 76.5 cents per $100 of assessed value would represent a 7-cent increase from the present rate, but that is not expected to be the final figure. The board originally proposed the rate as an outside figure to help offset some of the expense requests from the school system, but asked that County Administrator Brent Fedors try to achieve a budget with no real estate tax rate increase at all.
Fedors has subsequently produced an FY21 operating budget for the board’s consideration that represents a 5-percent contraction from what was originally proposed, eliminating the previously proposed 1-cent real estate rate increase originally contemplated.
Last Thursday, and again on Monday, the board held a pair of electronic meetings to discuss the county budget prior to the hearing.
Due to the economic situation Gloucester is now in, reductions were made to the schools, fire and rescue, and the PayGo Capital Improvement Projects.
The contractions are necessary due to the COVID-19 crisis, said Fedors, who presented projections for the rest of FY20 and into FY21, and expressed uncertainty about what lies ahead.
It was decided that the public referendum set to be held in November, regarding the increase to the sales tax, would still go ahead as planned. Several board members made it clear that the citizens should understand what’s happening, and that they should decide how the county is to move forward.
Based on his projections, Fedors said he believes that by December, Gloucester should be back to 2019 levels, which is less than the previous projections of 2020. However, before that occurs, Fedors said the government should expect significant reduction in revenue.
Originally, Fedors had developed a budget with a 1-cent increase in the real estate tax rate. However, he has since removed this tentative increase, which would reduce his proposed budget by $446,666, and he reduced the amount of on-time payments by 1.5 percent, contracting the budget by an additional $477,125.
Fedors used the numbers from April, May, and June of FY19, and adjusted them to estimate the numbers the county can expect in the remaining months of the current fiscal year. For example, the sales tax revenue of those three months last year added up to $1,193,898. Fedors cut those numbers in half for his projections of this year, yielding an estimated total of $596,949. He went through the same process with meals and lodging taxes. Meals tax provides a total $302,360 for those three months, and the lodging tax revenues are estimated to provide $27,933.
Not all revenues are expected to be affected so drastically. Building permits, for example, are expected to be at the same level as they were in FY19. However, others, like the recreation class fees, are expected to bring in no revenue because of the shutdown. Fedors estimated a revenue shortfall this year of $993,699. To ease this blow, he suggested optional sources of mitigation, including the suspension of the FY20 PayGo Capital Improvement Plan.
The three projects in the PayGo CIP that were recommended to be sacrificed to ease the shortfall were the improvements to the court circle, the Arc Flash Project, and the school bus radio system. Cutting those projects could save the county $1,145,583. The balance of the savings could also potentially help backstop the FY21 operating budget as unassigned fund balance.
Two of those projects, the Arc Flash Project (which involves training of fire personnel to deal with electrical emergencies), and bus radio system, were widely considered as projects that would be deleted. The board agreed that they weren’t top budget priorities. The removal of the Arc Flash and the bus radio systems alone would provide $466,050.
Without removal of the FY20 PayGo CIP, the total amount from other potential mitigations would be $648,388 to help the impact of the shortfall. This number comes from several other sources, such as the current operating expense suspension, which would save $168,959 and leave $345,311 remaining. Additional vacancy savings, also in effect due to a hiring freeze, are $214,429. Part-time Work As Required suspension which is already in effect will save $75,000, and a potential part-time furlough would save $40,000. The Gloucester County Public School underconsumption will free up $150,000.
One potential mitigation not calculated was a full-time furlough. According to Fedors, a full-time furlough could generate $30,000 to $35,000 a day. However, a full-time furlough would shut down the county government as a whole, and would be the absolute last thing he would recommend.
Impacts to FY21
Fedors listed the total anticipated revenue reduction from the originally proposed FY21 budget at $3,360,382, which is a 5-percent reduction. Due to the lean nature of the budget in recent years, and the lack of unassigned fund balance in the county, the 5-percent contraction is “drastic”, said Fedors.
The anticipated contraction of sales tax proposed in FY21 is expected to be $1,417,122. This is a 25-percent reduction from the original proposed budget of FY21. However, personal property tax is not anticipated to be affected. This was based on analysis of past recessions.
A large request that is being held off is the $29,847,288 for renovations to Gloucester High School. The consensus of the board was that the need for renovations was there, but the economy that they’re now facing is too foggy to fund the project at this time. The board decided that the funding for the renovations would be held for a year until the economy clears up.
Another change discussed was the removal of $267,982 from the fire and rescue budget. This number was for the design and engineering of Station One on Main Street. The board had a general consensus that since they were considering “pushing off cash investments and capital related items, that the fire department may consider doing the same thing,” said Fedors.
Board member Chris Hutson said that the request was to assist their funding, but that fire and rescue was still paying for the majority of the project. Board member Ashley Chriscoe said he believed that right now, given the uncertainty in the economy, this is something that needs to wait.
After further discussion, and some members of the board wishing to support fire and rescue, it was decided that until more information was received regarding plans for the money, the $267,982 would be removed. However, if clarification is given that will satisfy the board, it may be reinstated into the budget. Fedors stated that more information regarding the ask will be ready for the board’s April 23 meeting.
During the work sessions, two public comments were addressed in each by the same two citizens. Both comments were submitted via the online form on the Gloucester website. The first citizen, Howard Mowry of the Petsworth District, felt strongly for the revising the proposed budget. He also had concerns on county employees working from home, and how their productivity was being measured.
His comments for the meeting on Tuesday focused on areas in the budget that could be cut back. He felt that the school budget was too high, and that some county departments, such as Public Information and Community Engagement, and Parks and Recreation, should consider having some of their funding cut significantly.
The second comment read were from Wayne Cruise from Gloucester Point. At the first meeting, he reminded the board of the situations a lot of Gloucester citizens are currently in, and urged the board to lower taxes to help those who have lost their jobs.
During the second meeting, Cruise made comments regarding the renovations to the high school and other school projects, and whether they were necessary. He was concerned that the budget wasn’t lean enough and asked if Fedors was ready to take and distribute pay cuts to county staff.