The Prince Edward Budget Committee – The Way Local Government is Supposed to Work

   Written by on June 9, 2014 at 9:44 am

For at least the past 10 years, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors has followed the same general approach to making financial decisions.  They did not appear to spend much time studying and discussing the details of proposed budgets, appropriations, or economic development projects themselves.  Instead, Supervisors relied heavily on recommendations of the County Administrator, engineering consultants, financial consultants, legal consultants, and investment consultants.  This approach does not always seem to work very well, since in the last six years, Supervisors have spent millions of dollars of taxpayer money on economic development projects with little apparent economic benefit.  And, of course, Supervisors have organized themselves in such a way that detailed discussion of important financial decisions is less likely to occur.  Typically, organizations that handle a lot of money have a finance or budget committee to study proposals before the entire group makes the expenditure decision.  Apparently, Prince Edward Supervisors have not had a standing Finance Committee, which would exist throughout the year, since 2007.

In spring of this year, Prince Edward County was headed for the same procedure in terms of approval of the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget, which included a 19% increase in real estate tax rate.  After eight meetings, Supervisors, operating as a group, had identified only very limited expenditure reductions out of an approximately $22 million local budget recommended by the Prince Edward County Administrator.  However, this year, Supervisors voted to reject the proposed revised budget.  Then Supervisors voted to establish a budget committee to consider whether further reductions in expenditures were possible and appropriate.  The three Committee members, Pattie Cooper-Jones, Bob Timmons, and Bobby Jones met at least three times with County Administrator Wade Bartlett and discussed both requests for funds to support County governmental activities and donation requests from County organizations.  Although there was not 100% agreement on every proposed cut, the Committee and Mr. Bartlett worked well together to identify needed reductions in the proposed budget.  Then, when Mr. Bartlett met with agency heads to describe possible budget reductions, these agency heads generally agreed to help County taxpayers by accepting recommended cuts in the agency budgets.  At the last Budget Committee meeting, the Committee voted in favor of recommending nearly $414,000 in reductions in proposed expenditures.  These cuts, when added to the more than $68,000 reduction in expenses for County employees’ health insurance, passed by the entire Board on May 13, resulted in recommended cuts in the FY 2015 Budget of more than $482,000

If the full Board of Supervisors approves these reductions, then a significant portion of the proposed real estate tax increase will have been avoided.  No matter what the full Board does, the Supervisors’ Budget Committee, with the help of County Administrator Bartlett, did its job, and did it well.

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