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County presents budget proposal

The draft budget presented April 7 by Southampton County Administrator Michael W. Johnson includes no changes to property tax rates, but it does call for increases in monthly water and sewer fees, ambulance fees and the land use application fee.

This draft decreases the budget by $655,870 compared to the fiscal 2021 approved budget, to nearly $65.9 million.

Johnson said 50.98% of the draft budget’s projected revenues will be local at about $33.6 million; 45.14% will be state at about $29.7 million; and 3.88% will be federal at about $2.6 million.

With no change in the tax rates, general property taxes are projected to bring in only about 0.4% more than in fiscal 2021. Other local taxes, however, are projected to bring in 3.8% more, totaling slightly over $2 million.

“The big component of that number is the sales tax,” Johnson said. “As you all know, the General Assembly made some changes last year so that internet sales are now taxed and come back to the locality, which has been helpful to us in making up for some other shortfalls in revenues.”

In terms of projected expenditures, Johnson noted 54.8% of the draft budget will go to Southampton County Public Schools, totaling about $36.1 million.

He said 29.2% will go to the general fund, which includes the categories of general and financial administration, judicial administration, public safety, public works, health and welfare, parks and recreation and culture.

Water and sewer will draw 6.3% of the budget, and 4.4% will go to social services.

Johnson added that 3.4% will go to the building fund, which funds capital projects and includes money for fire and rescue capital, some of the debt service associated with the Turner Tract Industrial Park and the leases for some of the sheriff’s vehicles.

Lastly, 1.9% will go to the school food program.

Johnson’s draft budget states the general real estate tax levy will remain at 89 cents per $100 of assessed value, and the general personal property tax levy will remain at $5 per $100 of assessed value.

Referencing the increasing fees from fiscal 2021 to the proposed fiscal 2022 budget, Johnson started with water.

“We’re proposing to go up in fiscal year 22 one dollar on the residential and commercial base rate, which pays for up to 4,000 gallons of water each month,” he said, noting the fee will increase from $28 to $29. “And then the incremental rate for each thousand gallons over 4,000 gallons would go from $6 to $7 per 1,000 gallons.”

For sewer, the monthly residential and commercial base rates for up to 4,000 gallons would move from $36 to $37, and the monthly rate per 1,000 gallons more than 4,000 would go from $8 to $9.

For ambulance fees, the cost for treatment without transport is the only one unchanged, remaining at $380. The Basic Life Service Emergent fee would move from $450 to $630. The Advanced Life Service Emergent fee would go from $650 to $800, the Advanced Life Support (ALS-2) fee would increase from $900 to $974, and the mileage rate to the hospital would go up from $13 to $14.30.

“These were the recommendations that came to you all from the Southampton County Fire and Rescue Association, and it’s based on their understanding of the Medicaid-allowable rates, and they think it’s very important that we stay on top of that and make sure that we’re charging based on those Medicaid rates,” Johnson said.

The initial draft budget proposes increasing the land use application fee from $20 to $50.

Additionally, the solid waste management fee was recommended to stay at the same amount of $200.

“I didn’t take the liberty of making any changes in the policies that the board has established in the past, which includes this solid waste management fee, but if either abolishing the fee or reducing the fee is a goal of the board, I’ll be glad to share with you some ideas on exactly how much revenue that brings in, how much revenue some other sources may bring in to mitigate if you decide you want to either do away with or reduce that fee,” Johnson said.

Later in the meeting, Southampton County Treasurer Cynthia J. Edwards advocated for doing away with the solid waste management fee.

“That’s what was said would be done, and when you don’t follow through and do what you say you’re going to do, people lose confidence and trust in you,” she said. “And I realize not everybody that’s currently serving on this board was serving when that fee was put into place, but I still believe that you need to do what you say you’re going to do. And I think that we can find ways to do away with that (fee). We find ways to do whatever else we want to do in the budget.”

She said she would be happy to talk with any board members about the matter.

“If anybody else has an idea how to replace the trash fee, let us know what it is,” Jerusalem District Supervisor and Board Chairman Dr. Alan W. Edwards said.

As Johnson presented the key points of the initial draft budget, he pointed out that it includes an additional $1.3 million increase in state revenue above what was budgeted for fiscal 2021, representing a 4.61% increase overall.

“Of that amount, in round numbers, approximately $794,000 is earmarked for Southampton County Public Schools, $243,000 … is earmarked for Southampton County Department of Social Services, and $160,000 is earmarked for each of our five respective constitutional officers,” he said.

Johnson noted that local funding for Southampton County Public Schools is reduced by approximately $489,000 in the proposed budget, but debt service that was associated with Nottoway and Meherrin elementary schools has now been retired as those schools are paid off.

“When you combine that change with the additional state increases, Southampton County Public Schools will have roughly 3.77% more revenue available for their day-to-day operations than they had in fiscal year 2021,” he said. “I’ll also point out that we did include sufficient funding in this year’s budget to go back to the rotation on the fleet replacement for the buses. You may remember in the budget last year, the board removed that. We did not purchase any new buses out of our budgeted funds last year.

“We did end up spending some of our CARES Act COVID-19 money to purchase two new buses later in the year, but it’s important that we stay on that schedule to continue to rotate those older buses out of the fleet, and we did include sufficient funding to finance the next tranche of school buses in fiscal year 2022.”

Johnson said the proposed budget incorporates sufficient funding to cover the debt service that is associated with the courthouse renovation.

“We have also included funding in this budget that will finance the replacement of the steam boiler at the Walter Cecil Rawls Library,” he said. “This boiler is right at the end of its estimated useful life.”

The budget includes sufficient funding to provide 5% cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for county employees.

“I’ll point out that a lot of that state revenue that’s going to the constitutional officers, which includes the sheriff, the clerk of the circuit court, the commonwealth’s attorney, the treasurer and the commissioner of the revenue, that state revenue is available to pay for those 5% COLAs,” Johnson said.

He also noted the budget includes an additional $50,000 for the contracted emergency medical services with the City of Franklin so that they can provide the EMS workers with cost of living increases.

“We also provided for some fairly modest operational and capital increases for volunteer fire departments and rescue squads,” he said.

Lastly in his listing of key points on the budget, Johnson said that in the enterprise fund, he and his staff did include sufficient funding for the upgrade of the Bryant Avenue pump station in Boykins.

The initial draft budget can be viewed in full at www.southamptoncounty.org.

The board will meet again at 6:30 p.m. April 14 for another budget work session.