~ PVN staff report
LURAY, Jan. 23 — During its regular monthly meeting last week, the Page County Board of Supervisors received a positive audit report that showed the county’s fund balance has increased by $13 million over the past five years. Page’s general fund balance grew from $9.4 million to $22.5 million, an increase of about 140 percent.
“We’re financially better than we’ve been,” longtime District 5 supervisor Jeff Vaughan said at the end of last Tuesday’s meeting.
County officials contribute a number of factors to the positive trend in the county’s financial standing, from increased efficiency and revenues at the Battle Creek Landfill to higher than anticipated revenues from various taxes. Personal property taxes were lowered in anticipation of higher values of used cars, and the tax revenue still rose. Everything from the addition of a county cigarette tax (per pack) to increases in transient occupancy tax receipts has been driving up county revenues. Tax levies and collections increased by about $2.6 million in just the last fiscal cycle, with about 94 percent of the total levy collected.
County Administrator Amity Moler has also pointed to strong accounting practices in the finance department, which has won several awards in recent years. Accountant James Kelly told board members last week that current finance director “Tyler [Olsen] did an excellent job” and explained the qualifications that earned a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting consistently for the county over the last four years. The county has also been submitted for the award again for FY22.
In FY21, the county’s revenues exceeded expenditures by $1.6 million.
In addition, Page County Public Schools has also turned in unspent funds at the end of recent fiscal cycles. On Jan. 12, the Page County School Board unanimously adopted a resolution requesting that the supervisors reallocate about $1.1 million in unspent “year end funds” from FY22 back to the schools. The school system has tagged $265,110 for staff bonuses and earmarked $891,104 for capital improvement projects.
“We’ll see if we’re rewarded for being responsible with our money,” District 3 school board member Dr. Amy Painter said just before the Jan. 12 vote.
The schools will have to wait a little longer to see if they get all of their money, as supervisors still want answers to a few questions before giving schools back the same money they previously allocated to them. The supervisors withheld the $891,104 for capital projects until the completion of a $72,080 facilities study, which they approved along with $265,110 for bonuses not previously covered for non-SOQ positions.
In the county’s audit report, most federal ARPA funds have not yet been reported, according to Kelly, and are being treated as a liability because those funds have not yet been allocated. The county committed the majority of its ARPA funds to the regional broadband project that should be completed in the next 12 to 18 months.
All ARPA funds must be spent by Dec. 31, 2024.
In other business at its Jan. 17 meeting, the Page County Board of Supervisors took the following actions:
• Under New Business, heard a report by County Administrator Amity Moler that the Page Valley is being considered for an opportunity to record promotional videos featuring Dennis Quaid touting the area as a great place to live and do business. A $25,500 cost is associated with the project, and yet there is still competition to be involved. Eight other communities are vying for the opportunity, according to Moler, who was scheduled to have a follow-up meeting on the issue on Thursday. A company called Viewpoint approached the county. The project includes the creation of three videos — one-minute video, 3-5 minutes, and a 5-7-minute overview. The videos would air on Fox News and other channels as a segue between shows. Moler suggested the cost could be paid either through transient occupancy tax (TOT) funds or from the county’s growing fund balance/reserve.
• Unanimously re-appointed Sara Levison as the District 3 representative to the Page County Economic Development Authority. Her previous term expires Jan. 31, while her new four-year term extends from Feb. 1, 2023 through Jan. 31, 2027. Vacancies remain open on the Northwestern Community Services Board and the Social Services Board. The NWSCB meetings are held on the third Wednesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at their offices in Front Royal, while the Social Services Board meets the third Tuesday of every other month at the Department of Social Services in Stanley.
• Unanimously approved $22,900 from the general fund balance to cover the increase for software used by the Commissioner of the Revenue’s office and another $120,000 for the implementation of this new software. In December, the county was notified that Stonewall Technologies, the vendor that has provided CAMA software for the Commissioner of the Revenue, has merged with Vision Government Solutions. Consequently, the Commissioner will need to purchase software from Vision or another company. Vision provides many useful updates and is cheaper than other options. Commissioner of Revenue Becky Smith told the supervisors that 36 other localities in Virginia are in the same situation, with some having to pay up to $250,000 for a brand new system. The new system is cloud-based and commissioners across the commonwealth have a timeline on the transfer. Smith recommended delaying the contract one year for the six- to eight-month transfer process.
• Unanimously approved the appropriation of $5,290 in remaining funds from the Direct Animal Award given to the Page County Animal Shelter in FY22 for veterinary services and various supplies. The original award to the shelter totaled $10,000.
• Unanimously approved returning $127 to the Luray Airport Authority that was left in the Airport Hangar Fund Balance, which the Airport Authority no longer uses to collect rental fees and pay bills.
• Heard a report from County Administrator Amity Moler that law enforcement across the county went live on the new emergency radio system at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 18. By 7 p.m. that evening, emergency services joined the new network. The coverage of the county’s emergency radio system increased from 60 percent to 95 percent coverage under the new radio system. “This is a big deal for public safety,” Moler said.
• Heard from county attorney Michael Helm that due to an increasing workload for his firm Miller, Earl and Shanks, he may not be able to attend every meeting or event that requires a county attorney present. Helm introduced local attorney Caleb Routhier, who may be stepping in to cover some meetings.
In other business at its Jan. 3 organizational meeting, the Page County Board of Supervisors took the following actions:
• Unanimously agreed to follow the numeric rotation of the vice chairman’s position and voted to make District 4 supervisor Larry Foltz the vice chair of the Page County Board of Supervisors for 2023. District 3 supervisor Mark Stroupe filled the role in 2022. Foltz was absent from the meeting due to health reasons.
• Unanimously adopted the 2023 meeting scheduled for the board which places work sessions and regular meetings on the first and third Monday of each month, respectively. Meetings dates are shifted to Tuesday when a state or federal holiday falls on a Monday meeting date.
• Unanimously re-adopted the board’s rules of procedure for 2023, adding that the county administrator or chairman of the board is able to cancel meetings, particularly work sessions, if there is no pressing business.
• Heard a report from County Administrator Amity Moler that a new ambulance ordered two years ago just came in, and that the county recently received approval of a grant for $158,000 to go toward the purchase of another ambulance.
Follow the meetings, hearings and actions of county government
Economic Development and Tourism director returns to work 10 weeks after resignation with $8,000 raise
Page County drug court touts first graduates of program aimed at breaking cycle of addiction
Governor Youngkin appoints three local officials to statewide committees
Supervisors reluctantly agree to name bridge, rec center discussed and other county news
And yet, the County has no plan for business development. The last proposed plan was developed in 2018 and was punted by the BOS for input from the EDA, although that group had been involved in its development. It was lost in the circular file after that.
We need a business development plan to address serious issues.
1) lack of affordable housing for workers (often accomplished through grants and partnerships, although 2 supervisors at this meeting, Mr Lauderback and Mr Vaughn, said that the county should not go after grants)
2) the BOS Grinch-like behavior regarding school funding. Companies look at schools when deciding where to locate.
3) a plan that balances economic development against the need for environmental protection. This might avoid the economic development staff supporting projects like the Luray campgrounds, now requesting a permit to dump 15 percent of their treated sewage waste into the Shenandoah River.
Why doesn’t the county administrator direct her staff to get this done? Why has nothing been done to develop a business plan for 5 years?
We all deserve better.
Why doesn’t the BOS fill the other 5 slots on the Planning commission? The 5 current members out in a ton of work and do not even have enough members to form subcommittees to look at serious issues. They do great work. Why aren’t they given the resources to which they are legally entitled? Why does the BOS and county administrator handicap people who are doing great work for all of us(