Several citizens spoke about the proposed FY22 Madison County Budget during a public hearing last week.
The proposed budget includes a three-cent increase in the real estate tax rate, from $.71 to $.74 per $100 of assessed value. If approved, this will be the third consecutive year the real estate tax rate has been increased. The rate was raised five cents in 2019, from $.654 to $.70, a move that coincided with equalizing the rate due to a recent reassessment. In 2020, the rate was raised again by one-cent to $.71. Supervisors had originally advertised a two-cent increase.
In fiscal year 2022, each one-cent increase in the real estate tax rate generates approximately $175,000 in revenue. The increase in funds is needed to help balance the county’s proposed fiscal year budget of approximately $45.7 million, approximately $29 million of which is in the general fund.
The proposed budget continues big ticket items from the current year including the Madison Primary School renovation project which should be completed in June but was financed, the emergency radio communications project and the overhaul of the county administration building, which should also be completed this summer. The EMS budget has increased by approximately $433,500 and the commonwealth’s attorney office has increased by approximately $100,000, largely due to the addition of a new employee. For employees, a 5% raise has been included for compensation board employees, an increase which is funded via the state, and 3% for all other employees. A 1.6% health insurance increase will be split 50/50 with the county paying half of the approximately $13,000 increase and employees paying the other half. New in fiscal year 2022 are several positions including a shared full-time employee in the county administrator’s office who will be dispatched to where needed to fill or assist during peak work periods; a full-time administrator/payables clerk in the finance department; converting an employee in the clerk of the circuit court’s office from part-time to full-time; and an additional dispatcher in the emergency communications center. Additional overtime hours are needed to assist with the financial software installation in the commissioner of revenue, treasure and finance department offices and additional part-time hours are needed in the registrar’s office. A $40,000 mental health benefit via counseling has been added for employees.
The general fund budget is balanced using approximately $22.4 million in local revenue, up approximately 1.62% from the current year; approximately $2.7 million in state funding, up approximately .54% from the current year and approximately $2.2 million in federal revenue, up 1527.92% from the current year mostly due to the various funds associated with the pandemic. Supervisors opted to balance the budget by using approximately $1.5 million in fund balance, up 124.33% from the current year.
During the budget public hearing, citizens questioned the tax increase and the additional of the mental health benefit for employees. Eleanor Montgomery said she had spoken to several friends and neighbors who complained about the tax increase and wondered exactly what brought on the need for the mental health benefit. She said the county has a number of people who are on a fixed income or at/below the poverty level.
“Why raise [taxes] during a pandemic,” she asked. She also suggested any employee raises be in line with that of social security increases which is 1.3%.
Kim Smith said she doesn’t want to see people get back into a time of choosing food or medicine and while she understands where supervisors are coming from regarding compensation increases, what about the impact on the residents?
Jim Smith said there wasn’t much in the budget that could be tracked and asked for a breakdown of the real estate tax. He asked how much comes from commercial, industrial, agricultural and residential.
“If I were a cynic, I would say the path [we’re] on is genius in the gentrification of the county,” he said. “I don’t want that.”
Leri Thomas questioned the need for the tax increase, stating the county is overextended and citizens are overextended.
“At some point we’ll need a sewer system and be really overextended,” she said. “You need to start thinking like business people and get imaginative. Get creative and stop thinking like government workers.”
Thomas suggested cutting the fluff in the budget and putting some things off.
Supervisor Kevin McGhee said he too worries about sustainability and how government is paid in Madison County. He said the idea isn’t low growth, but smart growth and Madison County is a no growth county. He said he couldn’t thinking of anything that hasn’t been done to make the county more business friendly.
“We have services we have to provide,” he said. “It’s painful and only getting more painful. I know people are on a fixed income.”
Board of supervisors chairman Clay Jackson agreed, stating the board had written a letter of support for a cannabis processing plant on Rt. 29, approved the Crescere Rural Resort which is currently tied up in litigation, and worked on the Weiland property near Food Lion when the Department of Environmental Quality caused things to stall.
“It’s always going to be hard on Madison County with our rural makeup,” he said. “There are some things we’re trying to do that have been around for years like the administration [campus] renovation. We postponed IT for years and are far behind; the body cams—there are huge price tags that go along with that. COVID in some ways shored us up. We stood up an EMS Department. Broadband we’re exceedingly deficient on which is critical for everyone. The EMS radio system; that’s super expensive, but there are dead zones for first responders. With the Madison Primary School, hopefully we won’t have to touch it again for 40 years. There’s a lot of things coming up at the same time because we’ve been conservative.”
Supervisor Charlotte Hoffman agreed. She said the board members have quarreled with the numbers over several meetings.
Supervisor Carty Yowell agreed. He emphasized the need for tourism as a revenue stream in the county. He also said the mental health benefit is needed, especially in a year after the one everyone has just had.
The supervisors are scheduled to discuss some potential adjustments to the proposed budget during their April 27 meeting.