By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: April 19, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.
DINWIDDIE – The 2019 fiscal year ends in just over two month’s time so, for many localities, Dinwiddie County included, construction of the upcoming year’s budget should be approaching its final stages as tax rates for the coming financial year are evaluated and the last few numbers are crunched.
This week, county leaders are expected to adopt the tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year, which features a 15-cent reduction in Dinwiddie’s personal property tax rate and all other rates, including real estate taxes staying level for FY2020. At the time of their decision to lower the personal property tax rate, supervisors said it was important for them to give back to taxpayers in some form, this being the first reduction in the county’s personal property tax levy in decades.
“We thought we would give back to the citizens some of their taxes,” he said. “You have a lot of people who haven’t had any tax breaks in a long time. A lot of people do not own real estate but they may own personal property, like cars and boats. So we thought we would give everybody to save on personal property.”
While the reduction does offer benefits to the community in a lower tax bill, it also presents a challenge to the county’s budget development team, who now have to find ways to bridge the gap as the reduction in that tax levy translates to a loss of roughly $375,000 in revenue.
Over the course of 2019, county administrator Kevin Massengill, along with members of the county’s finance department, the treasurer’s office and commissioner of revenue’s office, have been working collaboratively to look at incoming revenue projections and pair them with expected expenditures in the coming year’s budget. Earlier this month, Massengill said, including the reduction in the personal property tax rate, there was still a roughly $600,000 shortfall they would need to bridge as, per state law, a locality must operate on a balanced budget. When asked, he is confident about the county’s expected revenue in the coming year and its impact on next year’s budget.
“The commissioner of revenue is constantly looking at what our revenue projections are and it is improving more than anticipated,” he said. “We are going to see some more revenue that will help bridge that gap of where we are currently short.”
While revenue growth is modest, even with the reduction in the coming year’s personal property tax rate, Massengill explained the county’s budget for FY2020 is focused on a message they have been following for the last few financial years, centered around maintaining services at their current levels while objectively looking at those services to see if improvements or greater efficiencies can be made, or if the service is actually achieving the goals it set out to accomplish and if not, retooling it to do so or look at other options.
“Every year, we look at all of our services and see if they are effective and efficient in their delivery,” the county administrator remarked. “Our goal is to continue to offer the same services at their current levels. I don’t think cuts are needed at this point.”
Elaborating on that point, Massengill said the county had identified a number of focal points in terms of budget priorities for spending in the upcoming fiscal year, namely public safety and employee compensation.
Regarding public safety, Massengill said there is interest from the Dinwiddie Sheriff’s Office to open a precinct in the northern end of the county. Previously, the sheriff’s department had operated a precinct along U.S. Route 460 at the former Rohoic Elementary School before that property became the home of Elite Contracting’s new facility. According to the county administrator, there are conversations ongoing regarding some form of a donation of space to the county that could house that northern precinct. He did note, with the addition of that precinct comes the need for staffing, which is being looked at as part of the coming year’s budget.
In addition, in the area of fire and EMS services, Massengill said they are looking to add three people to the fire-medics program, which are paid first responders who are cross-trained in both fire response and emergency medical service delivery, in an effort to provide better coverage during times when individuals take vacation or some form of leave from work, which creates deficiencies in shifts. The county is also adding a recruitment, training, and retention coordinator that would work with both the county’s volunteer firefighting network and paid staff to this coming year’s budget.
In terms of employee compensation, the county administrator confirmed all county employees will be receiving a three-percent cost of living adjustment in the budget. In regards to schools, Massengill noted the county is on-board and ready to help fund a pay increase for the county’s teachers.
Earlier this year, Governor Ralph Northam announced plans to provide teachers in the Commonwealth with a five-percent pay increase but, that increase would only fund Standards of Quality positions within the state’s school divisions, meaning any additional teaching positions above that SOQ metric would not be funded by the state and would have to be shouldered by the school division and locality.
According to Dinwiddie Schools Superintendent Dr. Kari Weston, the teacher pay increase and a lift to the school division’s base pay for teachers will cost just over $996,000.
Massengill said the county will be partaking to help make funding of the non-SOQ position pay increase occur.
The county also plans to add additional housekeeping staff during the upcoming year as the county prepares to operate their new government center building for its first full fiscal year in FY2020 and a second year of the new public safety building, along with a number of other county facilities, including the Ragsdale community center in McKenney.
No new services were discussed by Massengill but he was quick to stress that, where no new initiatives are planned, the current services the county delivers will continue at their present levels.
“What you see right now in FY2019, you will see in FY2020,” he remarked. “We feel like, with the workforce adjustments and the planned key investments into fire, EMS, the sheriff’s department, and housekeeping, this will help with the delivery of our services, but there will be no elimination of services.”
“Even with the reduction in the personal property tax rate, we feel we can maintain and improve our services and, I think, in 2020, the public can expect to see the same things they see here in 2019,” Massengill closed.
According to the county’s budget roadmap, a public hearing on the FY2020 budget is scheduled for April 30 at the Dinwiddie County Government Center.
Due to state law, the board cannot act on the budget at that public hearing and must wait a minimum of seven days before taking any actions. A tentative adoption date for next year’s budget is set for May 7.