No tax increase for Isle of Wight

Published 12:30 pm Wednesday, May 18, 2016

By Matt Leonard

Staff Writer

Interim Isle of Wight County Administrator Sanford “Sandy” Wanner was able to find more than $1 million in cuts to county expenses, preventing a tax increase in the budget passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors last week.

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The last-minute change to the budget came as the result of a May 4 work session during which Board members said they would not support the proposed 3-cent tax increase, which would have brought the total rate to 88 cents per $100 assessed value. It will now stay at 85 cents.

The Board was presented with three different budget options at last week’s meeting: a 2-cent tax increase with the fewest cuts, a 1-cent tax increase, or no increase with $1.2 million in cuts. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Employees from around the county gave the board brief descriptions of the cuts being made. Board members made multiple comments about not wanting to cut any expense that would “cripple” the county.

One of the biggest cuts is the 2-percent cost of living salary increase proposed by Wanner, which has been controversial since the beginning and would have cost $260,000.

Wanner said this was one of the first cuts he made to the budget because of the Board’s vocal opposition to it.

At a work session last month, several Board Members said people outside of government don’t see raises this regularly — employees got an increase last year.

“It doesn’t happen in the private sector,” Newport District Supervisor William McCarty said at an April work session about the raise.

But Wanner says the county will still need to consider raises in the future because it’s about competing with equivalent employers, not the private sector.

“I’m still disappointed that they couldn’t give a pay raise when other jurisdictions we compete with are,” he said in an interview. “But I respect the Board’s decision.”

He later added, “They (the Board) makes the policy, I just implement it.”

Another expense the Board had shown disagreement with was the capital projects budget. Wanner cut this next, saving $119,000. He said there is nothing of dire need being put off — building upgrades, park projects — so the expenses will simply be rolled over to another budget cycle.

Another $291,000 will be saved by eliminating one salaried position and freezing others. The position being eliminated is in economic development and isn’t currently filled. Wanner said the positions being frozen will become vacant due to retirements next year.

The funds dedicated to the school capital maintenance budget will also be decreased by half, now sitting at $250,000.

A spokesperson for the school system wasn’t sure how they planned to compensate for these differences. But Board members said Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton worked with the county when the decrease in funding was considered.

The plan approved by the Board excludes a salary increase for library employees, a cost of $11,000, which the board briefly considered reinstating when Smithfield Supervisor Richard Grice said the library employees weren’t included with the raises last year. But other Supervisors disagreed, saying if raises can’t be justified for other employees then they can’t be justified for the library.

When the Board told Wanner it wanted options to reduce or eliminate a tax increase, Wanner also asked staff to look at revenue streams to see if anything was performing better than expected. This led to adjusting the Emergency Medical Services billing revenue, adding $100,000 to the spending plan.

Despite the cuts, the Board was able to fund two new positions in the Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff Mark Marshall requested new positions to help cover growth in the Carrollton area.

The budget also includes funding to cover a $59,000 increase in health insurance premiums for employees.

Wanner said he wasn’t surprised with the Board’s request to bring them multiple options for the budget.

“They’re responding to their constituents,” he said.

Wanner recommended some changes to the budget process next year, saying getting the conversation going earlier could prevent a last minute debate. He said a budget retreat is something they might want to consider.

Before the vote was made, multiple Board members voiced their approval for adopting a plan that keeps taxes flat.

“I think our citizens will appreciate a step in this direction,” McCarty said.

Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson said that while he agrees with the budget, the county needs to look at how to improve things going forward.

“I think this board needs to remember that, you know, we made some cuts, we didn’t fix the problem,” Jefferson said. “The only thing we did was roll the problem to tomorrow. We need to be mindful of that because eventually we’ll have to fix the problem.”

McCarty said that will mean doing things to increase tax revenue, like bringing in industry.

“Now our challenge is going out and doing it,” he said.  {/mprestriction}