As I work to get back in the saddle covering county meetings, especially the upcoming budget currently being discussed and initiated, there seems to be some disagreement with how to handle the loss of revenue from the state and federal government, as well as the mandates from the Virginia Retirement System and the Affordable Healthcare Act.
The Capital Improvement Program is also struggling. More commonly known as the CIP, it is separate from the general operating budget, which pays for day-to-day expenses such as county payroll, employee health insurance and everything that keeps the county running. The CIP is set aside, by law, to fund major projects such as building new fire stations, libraries, new and renovated schools and some new roads and parks.
The CIP is responsible for the Chesterfield’s quality of life. Quality of life is one of the local characteristics that big business checks-off as they analyze places to establish their company or a new branch. For instance, we in Chesterfield have always held our school system in high esteem, and tout successes as one of the reasons to come here. Our safety system and infrastructure have also enticed commercial business to move here.
Now both sides of the fence are at risk. You have to feel for the budget and management department that is working to balance the books and keep our ship afloat keeping our quality of life continuing on its voyage.
It is possible that our school board will put together a bond referendum, which will allow the school system to borrow money to renovate some of our ramshackle schools and build a few new schools. But since a referendum is required, you get to vote on whether or not you agree with borrowing money to improve the infrastructure of our school system.
But borrowing is not too popular in today’s politics as we watch the mess in Washington. Are we navigating the same waters that could lead to financial disaster for Chesterfield? We do need to replace or renovate old schools such as Providence, Bensley, Beulah and Bellwood elementary schools, while we don’t need to build overdone palatial schools such as Cosby or Clover Hill high schools.
The school division operates from a different pile of money from the regular county administration and for the most part they budget on their own, and they get some help from school funding provided by Virginia and Federal governments.
The admin side has to deal with different issues. As you read in the Village News last week, the administration is unsure of some expenses as mentioned above. The revenue side is not panning out the way some at the county would want. The Board of Supervisors last week advertised the real estate tax rate as 95 cents per $100 of property value. Ninety-five cents is the same rate we now pay, and when the Board of Supervisors advertised the 95 cent rate, there’s no raising it any higher. Remember the added expenses the county is unsure of; remember that real estate assessments have gone down or leveled out for most of us. Remember that, and I’m not always in agreement with many county decisions, fees will have to go up, vehicle registrations could go up, and talk of the Board implementing a restaurant meals tax could be run next with the schools CIP referendum. How will you vote on that one?
How about cutting expenses? Chesterfield County made more cuts than the Commonwealth a couple of years ago when we were in the pit of the Recession.
Then there’s the admin CIP, the one that pays for fire stations, some road improvements, parks, and libraries. If a committee currently seated to advise the Board of Supervisors on cash proffers, which pay for major bricks and mortar projects for the CIP mentioned above, and the Board decides to accept it, then cash proffers for builders and developers could be gone and there will be no money for major infrastructure improvements.
I spoke with one county official and asked if the administration would float a bond referendum like the school division is contemplating, he said, you wouldn’t go out and buy a new house when you just lost your job, would you? - Proffers gone; infrastructure projects gone.
With diminishing and decaying infrastructure, both at the state level and the county, we won’t be as attractive to new business considering coming to the county. Will sports tourism make up for it? It’s your turn to answer that one.
A lot of people want to use Greece as an example of where the country is headed. Let’s use a place that is just as silly but may be a feasible scenario as we lose funding on many levels and more expenses are forced on us. Maybe we should be compared to Detroit.
Detroit lost big business and the city could not support infrastructure and operating expenses, and then half of its population left - reducing tax collection, adding expense to raze buildings, closed schools and pushing the city to the edge of bankruptcy. Is this an exaggeration when considering the Chesterfield budget? Yes. Is our budget something to be concerned about? Absolutely, yes.