Supervisors reimburse state cuts to officers

CHRISTIANSBURG – Montgomery County’s constitutional officers will not have to tailor their offices’ budgets around an anticipated $648,000 reduction in state funding thanks to the County Board of Supervisors vote to approve reimbursing the offices for the budget hits they will take from the Virginia Compensation Board next year.

The County sheriff, commonwealth’s attorney, clerk of court, treasurer, and a representative from the Commissioner of the Revenue’s Office voiced their concerns to the Board at a late September meeting. All County constitutional offices were set to receive cuts from the Virginia Compensation Board. According to the Governor’s Budget Reductions publication, the agencies were originally set for a $223, 850 total funding cut to all five offices. An additional $424,195 in cuts was announced in August, taking the total to $648,000.

“We all were alarmed at one another’s figures,” said Sheriff Tommy Whitt during the Board’s Sept. 28 meeting.

Whitt and the other constitutional officers said the sacrifices they have had to make because of budget reductions in the current fiscal year included cutting supplies and staff to the bone. The budget cuts for the next fiscal year, had they not been addressed by the Board, could have resulted in lay-offs (up to a third of the Sheriff’s Office patrol force, according to Whitt) and a decrease in services to citizens, according to the constitutional officers.

Last year, the Board planned for this year’s FY 2009-2010 budget facing an almost $850,000 shortfall. Last year, Supervisors and County Administration said the FY 2010-2011 state budget cuts would be worse. Their predictions from last year are holding true as they begin to draft next year’s budget, and budgets in the upcoming years will most likely come up short as well, said County Administrator F. Craig Meadows.

“It’s only just beginning,” Meadows said.

Supervisors said they were pleased that the County Administration succeeded in finding a way to make up for the lost money.

However, this short-term fix will not solve the long-term budget problems the County and its constitutional officers will likely face in the coming years, said Supervisor Mary Biggs.

“I know this is just a Band-Aid though, because it’s going to really hit the fan in the next budget year,” Biggs said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.” Also at the Board meeting, Supervisors held a public hearing on their upcoming decision on whether to implement a $3.00 fee as part of court costs in civil, criminal, and traffic cases, which would be used to fund construction on the County’s new courthouse and maintain the current courthouse. The General Assembly voted to give localities the ability to charge this fee at its spring 2009 session.

Citizen Wes Atkins was the only person who spoke at the hearing. Atkins said he opposes the fees because they would put an additional burden on the County’s taxpayers, who are already struggling financially. He suggested the County try to find ways to save money such as turning out the lights in County-owned parking lots when not in use, and saving fuel money by not allowing staff to drive their County-owned vehicles home.

Board Chair Supervisor Annette Perkins clarified that the fees are not a tax, but an addition to court costs. If approved, the fees would go into effect Dec. 1.