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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Economic reality can often change expectations

Friday, March 7, 2014

A low-key, relatively somber, public hearing on the proposed 2014-15 budget for Franklin County schools Monday night reflected the current economic reality -- little extra money will be available next year.

Although the budget includes a $4.3 million request for more local funding, school board members seem to understand that the money is simply not there and that amount is not expected. In fact, even to meet all of the mandates for next year, the school system and county both will need extra revenue from a small tax increase, or cut budgets yet again.

School Superintendent Dr. Mark Church outlined the list of priorities for the schools that make up the $4.3 million, and they were included in the schools' proposed budget as a way to keep those needs in the forefront. But realistically, revenue projections, even with the tax increase the county is considering, will barely cover the mandates.

The schools and county are facing a total shortfall of about $900,000 to pay for those state mandates, and that is after using a projected revenue increase for the county of just over $1 million next year and the extra money, about $1 million, the state is sending to the school system. The tax increases the board is considering -- 2 cents on the real estate tax and another hike in the personal property tax -- would raise a total of about $1.9 million. Of that, schools would get $635,000 (equivalent to 1 cent in the real estate tax), the county would receive $635,000 and the rest would go into a capital fund for upcoming major projects.

With this scenario, the schools would pay for the mandates and have about $400,000 left over for other priorities, while the county would have an extra $200,000 after mandates are met.

In other words, the tax hikes, if enacted, would reduce that $4.3 million request from the school system to about $3.7 million.

Those numbers tell the tale, and that's why school board members, as well as the board of supervisors, are being realistic this year. In the past, that realism has seemed to be elusive for many.

We have in recent years, especially after the recession hit, seen the budget process descend into bitterness. Supervisors and school board members seemed to be on completely different pages at times. Last year, the budget fiasco produced a desire on both sides to do something about this ongoing problem. Bringing in a facilitator was suggested and at the time that seemed like a good idea.

Instead, both boards cooperated and created a budget committee, consisting of two members from each board.That committee, it appears, has been very successful, as many of the issues and concerns are being hashed out at that level before they become larger problems.

Much of this is simply a matter of effective communication. That is, committee members have taken the time to develop an understanding of what each board is doing, and why. That understanding is then passed on to the other board members on each side. The result has been, at least to this point, less finger-pointing and confusion and more cooperation and congeniality.

We think most people in this county want great schools, and in better economic times, more money would certainly be available. But those better times are not here yet. The economy continues to struggle, even as more positive signs are evident.

Patience and cooperation are needed, and we are pleased to see that both are apparent so far in this budgeting process.

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