By Randy Arrington
LURAY, May 16-17 — The Page County Board of Supervisors approved an $86.5 million spending plan for FY23 on Monday night, including an $694,108 increase for local schools. The amount falls well short of the additional $1.6 million originally requested by schools mainly to support teacher raises and new positions.
That request was later lowered to just under $1 million, when the county earlier this year shifted a long-term, multi-million-dollar energy savings contract with Johnson Controls from the school budget to the county budget. The move took more than $600,000 out of the annual school budget, which means the increase in local funding for FY23 simply puts the school division back at the same level of local funding as FY22, around $11 million.
Despite an unexpected savings on health insurance of $705,291, the local school division still shows a shortfall of $207,365 in its projected FY23 budget. However, Dr. Antonia Fox, superintendent of Page County Public Schools, says county teachers and staff may still get everything that was proposed.
“With all the things we want in our priority list, we’re only about $200,00 short…so depending on where the state lands…and we’re optimistic that they will come to a compromise…we may be just fine,” Dr. Fox told the Page County School Board at a Tuesday night budget session. “We may be able to get our full 7 percent [raise for teachers], our step [adjustments], our classified [restructuring scale], and all the positions we wanted.”
Schools make up the largest share of county spending with its nearly $43 million allotted for operations representing about half (49.7 percent) of the overall county budget, in addition to $2.7 million for the food services program at schools (almost entirely supported with federal dollars) and another $2.7 million in capital improvement funds (awaiting final approval of the state budget). Of the school division’s overall $47.8 million budget adopted Tuesday night by the school board, only 27 percent is supported by local funds.
The lion’s share of the local school budget — 62 percent — is supported by state funds, and the inability of the General Assembly to reach an agreement between the two versions of the biennium state budget being debated in Richmond has caused both the supervisors and the school board to note that further amendments may be needed to the local budgets adopted this week.
“Wherever we land with the state, it’s going to change all the numbers, not only for [the county] but for us too,” Dr. Fox said. “We don’t need to lose sight that our staff are…at a minimum…going to get a 5-percent raise…we know that tonight, we can say that with all confidence and that’s a big deal, and I think we need to celebrate that in the midst of all the other things we don’t need to lose sight of that.”
The 5-percent — or potentially 7-percent — earmarked for teachers in the upcoming fiscal year goes on top of a 5-percent increase given during last year’s budget deliberations.
Despite the lack of solid figures from the state, District 3 supervisor Mark Stroupe noted the need Monday night to adopt a school budget due to the timing of teacher contracts — something that school board members acknowledged and showed appreciation for at Tuesday night’s budget session.
New contracts will be going out to current teachers on Tuesday, May 24, with the expectation that they be signed and returned by Friday, May 27. All current teaching staff will be offered a 7-percent increase in salary, as well as step and classification adjustments that have been proposed. The school system will, however, hold off on hiring any new positions until the state budget is finalized.
If the General Assembly opts with the House version of the state’s proposed biennium budget, Page County could lose more than $2 million in capital improvement funds. Of course, whichever version of the state budget that gets through the legislature will still need to be signed by the governor.
“We will have to come back and amend it,” Dr. Fox said of the adopted FY23 school budget, noting the wait on a finalized state budget. “We are still not sure when we will get that information.”
The current fiscal year ends June 30, with FY23 kicking off July 1.
Overall, the county’s $86.5 million budget represents a 7-percent increase (or $5.7 million) over the current budget of $80.7 million. In April, the supervisors lowered the personal property tax rate on vehicles, while leaving all other levies the same for the upcoming fiscal year. The board voted, 4-2, to lower the personal property tax rate on vehicles from $4.40 to $3.85 (per $100 of assessed value) — a 12.5 percent reduction — while leaving the levy on all other personal property at $4.40. Other tax rates (per $100 of assessed value) left the same as the current fiscal year include:
• Real estate — $0.73
• Machinery and Tools — $1.50
• Motor carriers — $1.50
• Aircraft — $0.50
Supervisors have also approved a Personal Property Tax Relief Act (PPTRA) rate of 23 percent for 2022. The Act allows a percentage of tax relief on personal-use vehicles valued at $20,000 and less. The recommended rate is brought to the board each year by Commissioner of Revenue Becky Smith.
The board of supervisors were not required to hold a public hearing on the tax levies because they reflected no increases for FY23.
In terms of the school budget, one sticking point for members of the school board was the “categorical” approval of their budget by supervisors on Monday night. The motion made by District 1 supervisor Keith Guzy passed by a 4-2 vote, and basically changed the county’s allotment for schools from a lump sum allocation in which schools decided how to spend the money in various departments, to a system in which the supervisors give a certain amount for a certain budget category. In the past, the school board could approve moving money around within its own budget — now that process will involve additional time, additional paperwork and the approval of the board of supervisors.
“This categorical funding decision is an increase in scrutiny, and it suggests, frankly, a lack of trust,” District 2 school board member Rolf Gubler said at Tuesday night’s work session. “Dr. Fox and the Central Office staff have been nothing but transparent…so I don’t understand it, and think it’s unwarranted given the level of good faith effort [our] folks have done.”
It was about seven years ago that the board of supervisors opted for a categorical approval of the school budget, but the process was changed back to a lump sum approach within two years. The new process could cause multiple delays in purchasing and takes away some “flexibility” the schools had in managing their own funds. The “micro-managing” approach, according to school officials, is rare across the commonwealth.
“It may constrain us in some ways,” Dr. Fox told the school board. “The workload on our staff and their staff is going to be greater.”
County officials have stated that they take the same approach with the sheriff’s office, by breaking out different allocations for operations at the jail and operations within the sheriff’s office and other public safety expenses.
The Page County Jail was allocated just over $5 million for FY23, with the Page County Sheriff’s Office’s receiving nearly $3 million — a total of $8 million, or 9.2 percent of the total budget, for law enforcement and incarceration.
In other business at its May 16 meeting, the Page County Board of Supervisors took the following actions:
• District 2 Supervisor Allen Louderback asked Page County Attorney Michael Helm to prioritize reviewing a proposed solar ordinance for code compliance that was recently submitted by the Page County Planning Commission. Supervisors noted that the Planning Commission must hold a public hearing once the legal review is complete before Supervisors can hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance. Supervisors unanimously approved extending a solar farm moratorium that was scheduled to end on May 31, 2022 to
Aug. 31, 2022.
• District 1 Supervisor Keith Guzy asked Administration to follow up with VDOT about potential safety improvements along Route 340, near the Hope Mills Store, following several fatal crashes. Page County Administrator Amity Moler reported that she plans to submit a proposal for improvements at the intersection of Route 340 and Good Mill Road in Rilyeville through VDOT’s SMART SCALE program. The area was identified as a high crash area, she noted, based on Page County Emergency Communications Center crash data. Moler added that she will follow up with VDOT about potential improvements along Route 340 near the Hope Mills Store, as requested by Supervisor Guzy.
• Supervisors unanimously approved a Special Entertainment Permit request by Racine MultiSports for the Luray Triathlon. Now in its 16th year, the international and sprint triathlons are scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 20, and Sunday, Aug. 21, respectively, at Lake Arrowhead and along surrounding Page County roads. More than 2,000 athletes and spectators are expected at this year’s event.
• Supervisors unanimously approved a Special Entertainment Permit request by Racine MultiSports for Swim Fest Luray. The annual event features three race distances and is scheduled for Saturday, June 18, at Lake Arrowhead. This year’s event is expected to draw more than 1,000 athletes and spectators.
• Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution to petition the Virginia Tourism Corp. (VTC) to recognize the Page County Economic Development and Tourism Department as a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO). The designation, if approved by VTC, would allow for partner opportunities and grant applications aimed at increasing tourism to Page County. Nina Fox, director of the department, explained that her office’s DMO designation would not take the same status away from the Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce, which is currently the sole DMO designee in the county.
• Supervisors unanimously approved an appropriation request totaling $1,910 in federal funds representing a third Local Law Enforcement Grant to the Page County Sheriff’s Office for the purchase of a mount and docking station for new mobile data terminals. There is no local match. The appropriation increases the County’s General Fund budget by $1,910.
• County Administrator Amity Moler reported that a Page County Board of Supervisors retreat is scheduled for June 17, interviews for a DSS Director are scheduled to begin next week and that she plans to consult with the County’s IT Contractor following cyberattacks in other Virginia localities. Moler also reported that the County is scheduled to begin streaming and archiving government meetings on the County’s website by July 1 through a contract with Civic Media, an add-on to the County’s website host, Civic Plus.
Briefs in this story were taken mainly from meeting notes provided by county staff. See minutes from previous meetings and agendas for upcoming meetings at pagecounty.virginia.gov/