Mathews board budget process continues

by Sherry Hamilton - Posted on Feb 12, 2020 - 05:02 PM

Mathews supervisors learned the basics of the budget last week during a budget work session with county staff.

During the Feb. 4 meeting, County Administrator Mindy Conner outlined where the operating budget moneys come from and how they are spent, pointing out that over $15 million of the budget comes from local revenues, while $2.8 million comes from the state, with $790,000 in the fund balance.

She explained to board members that revenues are not expected to increase significantly before the next reassessment, which is three years away, but neither should they decrease because of the $9 million value of new construction that could occur based on building permits that were issued last year.

Out of the current operating budget, $8.5 million goes to school funding, said Conner, while $4.2 million goes to governmental departments such as the Constitutional offices and county administration, and $3.5 million goes to public safety and the judicial system. Health and welfare receive around $968,000, said Conner, with around $1,100,000 going to debt service, although about half of that will come off in the next budget as a loan is paid off. Capital improvement projects were allocated around $774,000 in the current budget, she said.

Around 75 percent of the county’s budget consists of mandated expenses, said Conner, with under a quarter of the budget discretionary and approximately 5 percent administrative.

“A lot of corners have been cut,” she said.

Some of the discretionary funding goes to such entities as the fire department and rescue squad, said Conner, “which are things you wouldn’t not do, but you’re not mandated to.”

Conner said the county has worked hard over the past five years to increase the fund balance. It was $5.5 million in 2015, she said, and $7.8 million in 2019. The money provides a hedge against debt as well as a resource in disaster situations, said Conner. She said the board was able to build the fund balance because it wasn’t funding capital projects during that period. During most years, she said, any funding left over at the end of year goes into the fund balance, but last year much of the surplus was spent because of unexpected expenses.

“We really work hard to not have a ‘use-it-or-lost-it’ mentality,” said Conner. “If it hasn’t been expended, it goes back into the fund balance.”

The committed reserve is a subset of the fund balance, said Conner. It’s where the Capital Improvement Plan is funded. The current balance of that account is $451,991 for projects planned for this year, she said, down from $1.5 million in 2018.

Finally, Conner explained that a penny increase in the real estate tax brings the county an additional $150,000 in revenue, while a nickel increase in the personal property tax results in an additional $60,000 per year. The Meals Tax provides around $300,000 in annual revenues, she said.

CIP

Planning, Zoning and Wetlands Director Thomas Jenkins shared information on the Capital Improvement Plan that the Mathews County Planning Commission is charged with developing for ultimate approval by the board of supervisors. He has been working on the plan since last July, first collecting capital improvement requests from all county departments and agencies, then providing the information to the commission in October to be sorted through and categorized.

Capital improvement requests for fiscal year 2021 add up to $856,550, according to the spreadsheet. This includes a lump sum of $300,000 to the schools to be used for the most-needed capital projects, $250,000 to refresh and consolidate the county’s server, and $176,550 for the county’s share of Main Street improvements, none of which comes from county revenues. Of the funds for Main Street, said Jenkins, $141,240 comes from grants and $35,310 will be paid for by the Mathews Main Street Committee.

Smaller amounts requested include $50,000 to expand the parking lot at the Human Services Building, $40,000 for Haven Beach improvements, $30,000 for the design of improvements to the administration building on Brickbat Road, and $10,000 for design and engineering plans to elevate and flood-proof the school board building.

Projects planned for future years include dredging of Davis Creek ($2.53 million) and Hole in the Wall ($1.1 million); fiber installation for internet services to the Court House, Liberty Square, and Mathews High School ($300,000); broadband ($200,000); and Main Street Improvements ($1.54 million, 80 percent grant-funded).

Supervisors’ chair Amy Dubois said she wanted to discuss plans for the East River Boat Yard, and Jenkins said that the architecture school at the University of Virginia had sought a locality that needed a plan for an interesting semester-long project, and had chosen the East River Boat Yard. He said they will be working through April or May on it.

“Even if it’s not actionable,” said Conner, “it will be good feedback and a good partnership.”

Discussion of priorities

Conner told the board that she would be starting the budget process with a baseline budget, then build in different factors based on the priorities given her by board members. She said it was an operating budget, not a project budget. However, Dubois and Supervisor Melissa Mason both said they would like to see a results-oriented report in order to be able to better explain and defend projects the county undertakes.

Supervisor Mike Rowe said he wanted no tax increase in this year’s budget because of the large increase last year, and that he wants to see a budget with everything that’s being asked for laid out in an understandable fashion.

Dubois said it was a priority for her to see that there are more competitive staff salaries across the board, and she wants to make broadband maintenance and infrastructure a priority. She also said she wants to see the county encourage economic development by focusing on workforce development in the schools.

Mason said she wanted to start the budget from the premise that all would get what they were asking for, and then work from there. While people move to Mathews for the environment, and she wants to preserve that and not allow growth to get out of control, Mason said it’s a reality that growth is needed when talking about revenues and trying not to overburden residents. She also said that schools and public safety are very important.

Supervisor Jackie Ingram said after the meeting that the board needs to do the best it can to accommodate emergency services and the schools.

“Everybody might not get everything they’re asking for,” she said, “but we need to make a good assessment of the value of their needs and fill those needs as best we can.”

Conner said she would provide a baseline budget for board members at the March 10 budget workshop, which will be held at 7 p.m. in the historic courthouse.

“You will have some hard choices,” she said. “We can’t meet all of the requests with the funds available.”