By Carol Vaughn —
No one from the public spoke at a March 22 public hearing to receive comment on Accomack County’s proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget and tax rates.
No increases to any tax rates or fees are proposed.
The county’s real estate tax rate ranks 13th (highest to lowest) in its 19-member peer group of similar counties. The last tax hike was in 2016 — that was a 3-cent increase to pay for expanding emergency medical services.
There has been no tax increase to support services paid for by the county’s general fund since 2014.
Any impact from the next countywide assessment of real estate values will not be felt until calendar year 2022, said Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason.
The proposed $64.4 million budget represents a 0.2% increase over last years budget.
It includes nearly $4 million in capital expenditures — including $1.3 million for closure of a cell at the northern landfill and money toward constructing a new cell — and $56.6 million in the operating budget, along with $3.8 million for debt service.
Just over 41% of local tax dollars goes to the public school district, which according to a longstanding formula would receive an additional $468,000 from the county next year.
The budget as proposed includes a 2% pay raise for county employees and state-funded positions such as constitutional officers and targeted salary increases for public safety employees starting Aug. 1. Pay raises were removed from the 2021 budget because of financial concerns related to the pandemic.
Mason said he is working with Finance Director Margaret Lindsay and plans to bring a proposed budget amendment to the board at its next meeting to bring the raise up to 5% for all staff, other then those receiving higher targeted salary increases, in accordance with the approved state budget, which will give funding for a 5% increase for state-supported local positions.
In a departure from recent budgets, the proposed budget all but eliminates the planned contribution to the rainy day fund, which puts an indefinite hold on the board’s goal of increasing the balance to 16.7% of revenues by 2024.
Instead of adding $980,000 to the rainy day fund, the proposed budget adds just $114,000.
The board set its next meeting for Monday, March 29, when members could vote to approve the budget, after the legally required seven-day waiting period after the public hearing.
Board Authorizes Grant Applications for MNS, Horntown
The Accomack County Board of Supervisors voted March 17 to authorize the county’s application for planning grants for two projects: the Mary Nottingham Smith Cultural Enrichment Center and housing improvements in East Horntown.
The county typically has had only one Community Development Block Grant active at a time, but there is nothing prohibiting having two other than having enough staff resources to manage both, according to Mason.
Due to staff limitations, the county typically contracts with the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission to manage these grants, Mason said, but he noted he was told the A-NPDC does not have sufficient resources to manage both grants at one time.
The board approved Mason’s recommendation to apply for both grants and to enter into a management services agreement with the A-NPDC for the Horntown project.
For the MNS grant, the MNS alumni association agreed to do the grant application package and, if the grant is awarded, to procure grant management services.
Mason noted the MNS project “has a lot of community support.”
Karen Downing of the MNS project management team said the team will be adding additional members to help with planning efforts.
After several community meetings were held as part of a grant-funded preplanning process, “there were persons who had signed up who wanted to assist us with this next phase,” she said.
Additionally, the group is creating committees to work on fund development, historic designation, and marketing, she said.
Most Accomack County Employees Vaccinated
All county employees who had indicated they were willing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine had been vaccinated as of March 12, Mason said.
Over 70% of county employees are expected to be fully vaccinated within a month.