Free Lance-Star reporter Robyn Sidersky covers Caroline County government and schools. You can reach her at 540/374-5413 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow coverage on Facebook or Twitter as well.
Caroline ended budget year with a surplus
(My apologies…. I meant to post this before my vacation…but here it is. –Portsia)
Board Chairman’s 2012 Budget Message:
Chairman, Board of Supervisors
By the time you read this, the County will have turned the page on the 2011 calendar year and entered into the 2012 fiscal year. 2010-2011 was a second year of reduced revenue from the state and more unfunded mandates. 2012 looks to be a better year. Not the countdown and champagne kind of Happy New Year but the budget is balanced, programs funded and we have many outstanding opportunities to make it a great year.
To review, we closed out 2011 with an unencumbered balance of over one million dollars. This was due to reduced spending and better than expected revenue collections. We were able to have a positive balance in spite of over $1.5 million spent for correctional institutions and over $1.5 million for the comprehensive services act, both will increase next year. Although the 2011 numbers have not been finalized or audited, we expect to use much of that balance for existing debt payments or to help with cash flow the months before real estate taxes are collected. I would like to thank the County staff for their fiscal hard work and the work of the Treasurer collecting revenue and the Commissioner of the Revenue identifying new sources for the County.
The County real estate tax rate has been established at 68 cents. This does reflect an increase from the 53 cent rate of the past two years (remember the rate was 53 cents in 2009 and 2010). When using the average values, if your house was valued at $200,000 prior to reassessment, you will pay $84.20 more in taxes this year. That’s $42.10 in June and $42.10 in December or about $7 per month. I understand that any additional tax may cause a burden for some. However, I suggest that we get the best possible return on investment for that additional $84.20.
For $82.40 more a year we have provided an additional $500,000 to schools for 2012. Combined with the School Boards $300,000 in unused funds from last year, they were able to provide bonuses and pay increases to teachers and staff. The County’s total contribution to the School’s operating budget is now $11.5 million for just over 4,000 students. This does not include the $3 million a year in capital programs. Including state and federal funding, the total operating budget averages out to $8,303 per student. To compare, King George is $8,200 per student and tuition at Carmel Christian and Fredericksburg Christian is close to $7,000 per year. We may never approach Fairfax’s $10,000 per student but we are competitive. We are also making major investments in the School facilities. We have financed $9 million dollars for Bowling Green Primary renovations in response to the School Boards decision to move to K-5 schools. We also plan to finance another $9 million for the High School renovations and HVAC improvements next spring. $82.40 more a year means significant investments in our school system and our future.
Your $82.40 more a year meant the addition of several key public safety items. In 2012 we will add 17 new Sheriffs cars this year, replacing an aging fleet where the average mileage was almost 100,000 miles. We added a new ambulance to Fire and Rescue to complement their fleet. We also added 9 new school buses to their fleet.
Water and Sewer is another area where we have made huge investments with the additional $82.40 a year. To prepare for additional business growth in the Carmel Church/Ladysmith area we have invested in Waste Water treatment plant upgrades. We will expand our water system to include failing systems at Caroline Pines and Lake Caroline. Adding residential customers and businesses will require more water capacity and we are adding wells and treatment options for the short/mid term. We are also looking at regional partnerships for a longer term solution and we continue to work on our withdrawal permit from the Rappahannock. Understanding that water is a precious commodity we are keeping as many options available as possible. Every County resident benefits from the business growth in the Carmel Church/Ladysmith area because the real estate revenue in that area is close to $2 million dollars. The more businesses we can recruit the more tax revenue we get and the longer we can keep our tax rate low. In addition to increased revenue the investments in water and sewer help create jobs. Our newest business partner, McKesson has recently begun hiring and will have 100-150 new jobs for County residents. They will not be the only new business coming to Caroline and we hope to have another announcement very soon.
Finally, we have made key strides in the quality of life for all Caroline residents. While keeping our tax rate one of the lowest in the area we made the aforementioned improvements to the Schools, Public Safety and Public Utilities. We have also tried to provide services and needed benefits around the County. We have a new library in Dawn that will allow residents in that area to have access to books and the internet. We’ve worked with homebuilders to help them and the now improving housing market. We have worked with existing cable companies and new prospects to increase the high-speed internet availability in the County. We continue to recruit new businesses to improve the job prospects of our residents. We’ve continued to fund the FRED bus service, allowing those working to get to and keep their jobs. After combining the County offices, we have created permanent County decals so you don’t have to stand in line in March anymore. We still have more to do and will continue to work hard for the citizens of Caroline County. Together we will make it a happy and prosperous new year for the County. Thank you and God bless.