Monday, April 09, 2007

Budget expected to cause little fuss

Botetourt County's 2007-08 budget doesn't call for any tax increases that affect residents.
The Roanoke Times
By Jay Conley

A public hearing Wednesday night on Botetourt County's proposed $92.8 million, 2007-08 budget will probably lack the emotion and drama that existed this time last year, when county residents bristled over an average 26 percent increase in their real estate tax assessments.

"I haven't heard a thing from anybody about any issues at all," Botetourt County Administrator Jerry Burgess said. "If there are any, I'm not aware of them."

At last year's public hearing on the budget, a group of county citizens who organized under the slogan "Protect Botetourt Property Rights" turned in a petition with 26 pages of signatures, asking supervisors for some tax relief to compensate for the high assessments.

Supervisors took heed of the petition, lowering the real estate tax rate from 70 cents to 65 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Like many rural counties in Virginia, Botetourt updates its real estate tax assessments every four years. Next year's proposed budget doesn't call for any increase in the real estate tax rate, or increases on any other taxes that affect residents.

"We're not raising any fees on anything. So it's really a flat year in terms of charges," said Burgess. "The only thing we're living on is growth."

Next year's proposed $92.8 million budget represents a 22 percent increase over the current budget. The bulk of that increase is related to about $9.2 million in costs associated with opening a new regional jail in Fincastle this fall.

But no new funds are required to cover those costs.

The county expects to receive slightly more than $7 million back from the state next year to cover some building costs. The remainder, about $1.9 million, is needed to hire 31 employees to staff the jail. Those funds will come from reserves in the county's general fund.

"Our financial forecast five years ago predicted this," Burgess said of the increase in jail staff. "So we're well-positioned to be able to absorb it."

The $20 million regional jail in Fincastle will serve Botetourt and Craig counties. The 88,000-square-foot facility will have room for about 200 inmates.

About 21 county employees at the current jail will be transferred to the new facility.

Botetourt County Sheriff Ronnie Sprinkle said in January he needs to fill 28 additional deputy positions at the new facility, as well as two cook positions and one administrative specialist position.

Other increases in the budget include a $1.5 million increase in local funds for the county school system's budget, about $460,000 for fire and rescue services, and $210,000 for parks and recreation.

School officials say the additional money is needed to give teachers an average 4 percent salary increase, to give administrators an average 2.5 percent salary increase, to hire an assistant principal at Greenfield Elementary School, to fill an additional teaching position at Lord Botetourt High School, to hire a custodian at James River High School and to hire a bus driver for the southern end of the county.

The budget also includes an array of increases for employee benefits for county and school employees.

Wednesday's public hearing will begin at 7 p.m. in the county board meeting room in the Old General District Courthouse in Fincastle.

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