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 considers firefighters
BY PORTSIA SMITH
After a public hearing on the proposed budget, members of the Caroline County Board of Supervisors will ask themselves over the next few weeks whether to fund firefighters.
About two dozen residents spoke at Tuesday night’s hearing, and a majority were in support of public education and saving five firefighter/medic positions that had been covered by a grant that expires at the end of September.
“We need the men and women of the emergency services just as we need better schools,” said Bowling Green parent Linnea Woolridge.
In interim County Administrator Alan Partin’s proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1, he suggests increasing the real-estate tax by 4 cents to 72 cents per $100 of assessed value. The current rate is one of the lowest in the Fredericksburg area.
But that 4-cent increase does not include the $257,000 that would be needed to fund the firefighter positions. Those had been funded by a federal grant, which provided funding for understaffed fire and emergency-response departments, since 2009.
Ryan Abernathy, president of the Caroline County Professional Firefighters Association, said that not funding the positions could have a drastic impact on emergency response times.
“Having too few firefighters on the job is a direct threat to public safety, “ he said. “Even in the worst of times, public safety must be among our highest priorities.”
Board Chairman Wayne Acors reminded the crowd that if the board did preserve the positions, it would have to find the funding, which would mean cutting something else because it can’t go beyond the advertised 4-cent tax increase.
Under the proposed budget, schools would get $11.5 million, the same amount of local funding they received this year. That is $2.5 million less than the $14 million the School Board requested.
Western Caroline District School Board member Mary Anderson said that after reviewing annual reports, it appeared that “education is getting even smaller pieces of the pie” when compared with other departments.
Partin also proposed a nearly 38-cent increase in the personal property tax rate from the current $3.125 to $3.50 per $100 of assessed value at 100 percent. There was a mix of citizens that didn’t want the increase and those who did if it went towards schools or to pay down debt.
Despite a proposal for a 5 percent increase in user rates for all utility customers, no one spoke in favor of or against it during the public hearing.
The proposed budget will include increases in debt-service payments, and in costs for employee insurance, inmates, at-risk youths and families, and fuel.
Some residents did share criticism with the board about how much debt the county is in.
“You can’t continue to spend money you don’t have,” said Mattaponi District resident George Parker. “If I ran my household the way you run this county, I’d be in jail. There’s too much debt and not enough income.”
Board members scheduled budget work sessions on Monday and Tuesday at 5 p.m. each evening.
The next regular board meeting will be held Tuesday at 6 p.m., and the board expects to set the tax rate April 17.
Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419