Wise supervisors get first look at 2007-08 budget

Stephen Igo • May 10, 2007 at 11:36 AM

WISE - The Wise County Board of Supervisors was presented a working draft of the 2007-08 county budget Thursday that includes a suggested net increase of $2.75 million over the current fiscal year, and about $350,000 less than the increase in "new" money requested by the Wise County School Board.

Original funding requests from all departments, including the school division, totaled nearly $48.5 million. Additions to those requests pushed that to $49.6 million. Reductions in requests by departments other than the school division, plus a computing error, brought the net general fund proposal down to nearly $47.2 million for next fiscal year, about $2.75 million more than the current year's $44.4 million.

Assistant County Administrator Shannon Scott told supervisors that nearly $1.3 million of the increase is "extraordinary one-time expenses" including about $500,000 each for property enhancement at Virginia City where a power plant is proposed to be built and to make improvements to the courthouse, plus reinstating rotational replacement of patrol vehicles for the sheriff's department.

Scott said department heads were advised that capital improvements in their requests such as computers, desks and the like "truly must be justified" to supervisors in person, a philosophy applied to positions as well.

"Better that than a continuous budget that grows and balloons and balloons," said Scott.

The working draft suggests funding the school division's increase in county taxpayer dollars for next fiscal year at just over $400,000. The school board sent supervisors a $750,000 increase request, including a last-minute $150,000 to double the annual teacher stipend for master's degrees from $1,500 to $3,000 and increase the stipend for educational certificates (Ed.S.) from $500 to $1,500.

The school division is proposing a 4 percent salary increase for administrators, 5 percent for teachers, and 8 percent for support personnel. In the countywide budget draft presented Thursday, all other county employees would get a flat 4 percent pay raise.

Ann Wade of Wise, a St. Paul teacher and active in the Wise County Education Association, told supervisors she listened to the presentation "with a heavy heart" because the draft document does not fully fund the school division's request.

Currently, county taxpayers provide just over $14 million to the school system, and the school board's request would take that closer to $15 million.

In the school division budget request, starting teachers would earn over $31,000, and the top of the pay scale surpasses $56,000. Wade told supervisors the pay is just for 200 days' work and inadequate.

She said teachers don't get paid holidays or other paid days off, and teachers have to find other employment during the summer to make ends meet. Wise County teacher salaries "are not enough to compete with the rest of the state," Wade said, and teachers will go elsewhere unless their base pay is increased, as well as the annual stipend for master's degrees and Ed.S. certificates.

Later during Thursday's meeting, board Chairman Ronnie L. Shortt noted that the budget proposal "is a working document" that will be pored over by board members over the next two weeks.

Thursday's meeting was continued to May 24 at 5 p.m. to focus on the budget.

"There will be additions, there will be subtractions, there will be questions - why is this here and why that's not?" Shortt said. "Part of our job is to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money."

Supervisor John Peace II said the pie is only so big, and everybody might not get full, but they will be fed.

"The whole pie will be served," he said. "Sometimes it's difficult to decide how to cut the pieces up, but the whole pie shall be served."

In other matters, supervisors denied Abingdon-based Angel Care Ambulance approval to set up shop in Big Stone Gap. Peace said Angel Care could reapply later after getting mutual aid agreements ironed out with Wise County rescue squads and other health care providers.

Supervisor Robert Adkins said he voted to deny the application because established ambulance outfits in the county don't need the competition.

Supervisors unanimously approved an amendment to a 1988 ordinance banning private landfills to accommodate the new power plant's possible need for a flyash landfill at the Virginia City site just outside St. Paul. Dominion Power is leading a consortium of Eastern Virginia utilities to build a new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plant at the site and have it operational by 2012.

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