On Thursday, county supervisors will consider a $349 million budget for fiscal year 2021, which begins on July 1. The revised budget proposal was submitted to the board by County Administrator Paul McCulla Tuesday after supervisors asked staff at a March 19 meeting to prepare a “flat” budget proposal in light of economic concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Included in the proposal is a recommendation from county staff that supervisors appropriate funds on a quarterly basis “to allow for the county government to be agile in our delivery of program and services in response to COVID-19.”
The new proposal maintains the overall real estate tax rate at $0.994. It includes no compensation increases for county employees and keeps the local contribution for the school division operating fund at the FY 2020 level.
Total appropriations would still increase by $18.3 million, or 5.5%, in FY 2021, mostly from sources other than local funding. The school division, for instance, will receive a net total of $4.8 million more in state and federal funds in FY 2021, a 3% increase.
Net local expenditures would increase by a total of $2.4 million, or 1.3%, from the current budget. According to the staff report, the updated budget proposal includes “only increases that are mandated, previously committed by the board of supervisors in FY 2020, or a contractual increase for programs and services.”
The original proposed budget submitted to supervisors last month called for $357.9 million in total expenditures, an 8.2% increase from FY 2020. The increase was to be funded partially by a 3.6 cent increase in the real estate tax rate, which has been eliminated under the new proposal.
Most expenditure increases included in the original proposal have been cut in the new budget, including the proposed $2.8 million increase in local funding for the school division operating fund, which was still about $1 million short of the school board’s request. Also removed from the new proposal is the plan to add 15 fire-and-rescue personnel – which would have expanded service from the Goldvein, Lois and The Plains stations -- and two new sheriff’s deputies
Funding for capital improvement projects has also been significantly reduced under the new proposal. Overall, proposed CIP local funding has been reduced to $632,861 in FY 2021, down from the $2.1 million proposed last month.
The county’s FY 2021 contribution to the parks and recreation fund is now $150,000, down from $1.2 million in the original budget proposal, delaying two major county projects until FY 2023.
Phase two of the central sports complex project is one of the projects being delayed. This phase comprises the installation of an electrical plan – including lights for three fields sports fields – and water systems, including the construction of restrooms and irrigation. Phase one, the construction of the fields themselves, is still on schedule to be completed by August, according to parks and recreation director Gary Rzepecki.
Another project, a plan to build a park at the site the Rappahannock Station battlefield in Remington, would also be delayed until FY 2023 under the new proposal. The plans for the park, which has been in the works for almost a decade, are almost finalized, Rzepecki said. Requests for construction bids could have been solicited beginning this year, he said, but would be delayed under the new budget proposal.
All fire and rescue station capital improvement projects would be delayed as well, most significantly the plan to build a fire and rescue station in Bealeton. The revised 2021-2025 CIP proposal delays the start of funding – and, subsequently, the design phase -- of the Bealeton station by two years, to FY 2023.
The Cedar Lee Middle School expansion project is still funded under the latest proposal; the Taylor Middle School expansion project, set to begin with the design phase in FY 2023, would likewise not be affected.
Tuesday’s proposal also included a draft of the FY 2022 county budget that totals $338 million, $33.2 million less than in February’s draft. The reduction comes mostly through reducing general fund contributions to capital improvements by $20.4 million compared to the original draft. Under the draft, there would be no real estate tax increase through tax year 2021.
Currently, the board of supervisors is set to meet on Thursday, March 26 at 4 p.m. to adopt the current-year tax rates, the FY 2021 budget and CIP for FY 2021-2025 and approve the FY 2022 budget plan. The supervisors will gather at the Warrenton Community Center, but the public will not be able to attend in-person due to restrictions in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The meeting will be livestreamed at www.vimeo.com/event/25618.