Spotsylvania News

Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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Silent Treatment

The two highest-paid CEOs in the county government don’t speak.

That’s right, County Administrator Randy Wheeler and School Superintendent Jerry Hill haven’t talked once since November, and possibly longer.

Supervisor Hap Connors revealed this "secret" last night during the work session. He was visibly frustrated, telling School Board members that every time he has to meet with one of them to discuss the budget "gap," he has to take time off work. He often meets with School Board Chairman Gil Seaux, who he said is retired. School Board members and supervisors have met several times offline, usually in pairs which are allowed by the open-meeting laws, to try and settle the differences in the budget. So far, no one has pulled a rabbit out of a hat, at least not in public.

Connors said if the two well-paid leaders actually communicated, maybe they could have worked out an agreement for a budget that several supervisors, including 28-year incumbent Emmitt Marshall, say is the tightest ever.

He challenged Wheeler and Hill to end the silent treatment and settle the funding differences. At a 62-cent tax rate, which is a 6-cent tax increase, the school system is still seeking $8.2 million more. That is almost a 6-cent tax increase by itself.

Hill said when Wheeler recommended a budget that kept school funding flat at $118 million, it did not help relations.

Wheeler said he has no problem communicating with Hill. He said they have fundamental differences with how schools should be funded with local dollars. Wheeler also said he is not optimistic that the two leaders will be able to hammer out a new budget that pleases both sides.

Connors said his point is that maybe the two boards wouldn’t be in the position they are in today if the two "CEOs" communicated. School Board members were actually begging supervisors last night for more money. School Board member Ray Lora said he loved the supervisors and then he blessed them. I’m not kidding.


Sheriff Howard Smith also took some heat over his request for 26 cruisers. Supervisor Benjamin Pitts said he called four or five nearby localities, and the State Police, to find out when they make requests to replace cruisers.


Smith asked supervisors for the new cruisers because some have more than 90,000 and 100,000 miles. Apparently Smith told a supervisor that he needed at least 11 cruisers.

Pitts said he could not find one law enforcement department with a policy that vehicles should be replaced at 100,000 miles. He said he found one policy that says vehicles should be replaced at 110,000 miles. He said the State Police is considering using the police cars up to 140,000 miles. The sheriff didn’t respond to Pitts’ comments.


The assessments this year are much closer to the market than the last assessment cycle in 2006, Commissioner of Revenue Debbie Williams told supervisors last night.


The state conducted an audit of the county’s assessments, at her request, and last night she said supervisors should be getting a letter soon that will say they were 97 percent at market values. She told the Free Lance-Star that the last assessment cycle was 75 percent at market values, which is why many people saw property values increase by double digits this year. When I get the letter, and talk to Debbie in more detail, I will write up an article to explain it better.

I am out of town until Monday so I can be the best man in my high school buddy’s wedding. Enjoy the weekend.




  • gramps

    has a point when he is talking about the twin-CEOs. However, I am very doubtful those two could ever agree on anything except to agree to disagree. Perhaps both Boards ought to be thinking about finding replacements. As for Mr. Lora…it sounds like he is getting desperate.

    There are three interesting posts on the tax-rate/budget/school issue on the RappahannockRed web site ( Two are by D.J. McGuire and the other by Peter Gibbons. I don’t know either of these fellows but they make some interesting points.

    gramps aka Bill Haas

  • lgross

    I think it is a cheap shot at Mr. Wheeler to blame him for the lack of a defined BOS Policy with respect to funding schools.

    Mr. Wheeler, as far as I can tell, has been one of the more competent and responsive Administrators that the County has had since Kimbal Payne.

    I would add that the continual upheaval between the BOS and the School Board has transcended County Administrators.

    Here’s a solution.

    Fund the Schools on a per kid basis adjusted for inflation JUST AS the State does.

    Let that be the baseline budget – every year.

    Then let the School Board make the case for new programs and new initiatives and let the BOS decide how many of them they can afford to fund.

    Again..I think the hit on Mr. Wheeler was undeserved… and if as a result he looks elsewhere, it will be our loss.

  • lgross

    The BOS has asked for and received from Mr. Wheeler and his staff a wide array of information and “what if” tax and budget “what if” scenarios.

    They want more than answers. They want options and recommendations.

    In each case, he takes the task.. crunches the numbers and returns with the answers – all to support the BOS in making the decisions and all in a very public way such that the public understands the process.

    Compare that approach to the School Board approach.

    Blaming Mr. Wheeler for the School Board NOT doing a budget process like he has been doing is really insulting.

    As far as I can tell he has worked tirelessly to do what the BOS requested.

    Imagine Mr. Wheeler presenting to the BOS what he calls a needs-based budget that he refuses to show further potential cuts.

  • wiseman

    Let me get this straight. Connors blames Richmond for not being able to fund the “necessary investments” in the county and now he blames the county administrator for the budget mess? Doesn’t he have a role to play? Why doesn’t he go after the school board and ask them to actually debate a budget. That is something they haven’t done in 5 years. Stafford does it but Spotsy doesn’t. Connors should step up and show us his extensive budgetary abilities beyond simply wanting to raise taxes and spend our money. This is the problem you get when you do not have people with a business background in positions of authority. Bureaucrats do not know how to make tough decisions.

  • lgross

    I think the budget PROCESS for the county is not bad on several fronts but one of the most important is that the Administrator does go crunch the numbers for various “what if we cut this” scenarios.

    He makes clear what his recommendation is but who also fully supports all inquiries and understands HIS role is to support the elected BOS in their decisions.

    To have an elected official chew on his employee for not doing what he should be doing while at the same time blaming Richmond for not raising taxes – which would include the folks in his County – makes me wonder if this is the right job for that official.

    We have another elected who has posited that because the BOS did not cause the mortgage crisis then it’s not their fault that they must raise taxes.

    ….. continued

  • lgross

    I’d like to see a budget process that is clear and transparent for both the County and the Schools.

    Right now.. I consider the school budget as basically rope-a-dope data dumps.. designed to NOT help taxpayers understand – especially when compared to the County Budget Process.

    I think it is pretty bad when the county employees will get no raises and the schools essentially stonewall the issue… and the County Administrator gets blamed for it.

    I’m thinking that an elected school board that is not directly accountable for their budget decisions is not a good thing.

    I’d rather see them either as not elected and like any other county department

    elected and directly accountable for setting the tax rate for the school side of the budget.

    right now, we have the worst of both worlds IMHO.