Caroline County faces real threats, both in debt and operating costs in the future….
The Caroline County budget adopted last Tuesday is more aggressive than last year, supporting new expenses to the tune of $500,000 for the “implementation of the classification and compensation study for full-time and part-time employees under the County Administrator and Constitutional Officers”. This study will likely inform Caroline County that salary increases will be needed shortly. Salary increases will increase Caroline County’s operated budget. Because the 2 cent real estate property tax increase failed last Tuesday, Caroline County will depend heavily on organic revenue growth to fund increased operating costs in the future. It is important to understand, however, that in a rural county like ours, human capital is our best investment.
Last year, our Public Administrator, Charles Cully, and our department heads, where able to come in under budget, providing our county government with surplus funds that we were able to invest in infrastructure and return to Caroline County Schools. These budget surpluses continue to get smaller as our infrastructure problems grow more severe.
Capital projects include a whopping “$3,017,058 for upgrades under the Energy Savings Contract to various County buildings (paid for through energy savings)” as well as “$350,000 for replacement (of the) financial management system”.
The general fund budget will increase by 2.7%.
It is clear that this current budget aims at securing our county’s infrastructure through stop-gap and tentative measures. Needless to say that there are going to be large bills coming forward in the years to come, which will either require tax increases or increases in organic revenue.
One obvious problem for Caroline County, is that with all the violence endemic in American public schools, we still do not have nearly enough money to fund school resource officers for the county. In 2014, we provided $145,000 for resource officers. In 2015, that dropped to $127,000. In 2016, it rose to $128,000 and this year we are budgeted $131,000. Supervisor Jeff Sili’s proposal to get rid of the $102,000 we invest each year in Fred Transit to offer transportation to less than a handful of county residents could open up funds to increase funding for School Resource Officers to $150,000. We all ignore school safety, until our schools end up on the news. Sheriff Tony Lippa pleaded for more resource officers last Tuesday, but I’m unsure whether or not the $3,500 increase is sufficient to provide for an extra officer. (I’m not working for $3500 a year).
We are lucky, as Mr. Cully continues to find ways to cut County Administrative costs. This is phenomenally rare in county administration. In other words, Mr. Cully is willing to try to meet continuously growing expectations with less money to support county administration. Now, this is something you will not see in our schools. Our school administrators have seen their administration funding increase 16%, while only increasing instruction funding 6%. Something seems wrong when extra money given to our schools goes into the pockets of administrators, as opposed to teachers – but that’s just me. We saw similar increases for administration last year.
County Administration increases have been directed toward financial management and information technology (which I imagine is both needed, and will benefit residents).
Judicial management and administration will be cut by 1.3%.
Planning and Economic Development are seeing increases this year, however, planning seems to be the primary beneficiary. While planning has far more contact with and responsibility over local development, I would like to see more than 3% increases for our Economic Development and Tourism department. Truly, our Economic Development team is doing more with less than probably any county anywhere. Speaking of which – a point that residents should understand…Caroline County is a rural county…yes; but we are also an entirely resident-owned county. While we might demand economic development from our County Government, it is important to understand that Caroline County doesn’t own any land. We can’t simply sell the land owned by residents in order to bring in new business. Supervisor Forehand pointed out Tuesday that 100% of county real estate is already financed.
Therefore, future economic development depends on Caroline citizens offering up their land at reasonable prices for interested small businesses. If that doesn’t happen, there really isn’t anything the county government can do to bring in new small businesses. Port Royal seems to have an aggressive development plan, something we haven’t seen in Bowling Green. That expensive by-pass isn’t looking like such a good idea now that the only traffic coming into the town of Bowling Green comes from folks ticketed by county deputies speeding on 301 and 207.
Ladysmith and Port Royal are aggressively pursuing development. This is obvious. Why not Bowling Green?
I don’t mean to be judgmental, but Bowling Green’s dithering harms the entire county’s economic prospects. If you know folks in Bowling Green, it might not hurt to talk to them about their town government – with an aim to figuring out why businesses don’t want to come there and, after they do, don’t want to stay. You can’t run a town on a courthouse, a Masonic Lodge, a funeral home, and a post office. You need business.
Let me say this about our budget – it doesn’t go far enough to deal with future expenses. We need serious improvements to our infrastructure. That said, the opportunities for future growth in Caroline County look better than any time in the last seventy years. Nancy Long is correct – expected new revenue is nothing more than expected…but, it is a reasonable expectation. Sadly, there are real threats that could hurt our county’s financial stability looming in the future. Walmart and Harris Teeter could help. Current budgets must adapt to both our hopes and our fears.
Remember this, though, next year.
If all the county growth that we hope for takes place over the next ten years, we could still be behind the eight-ball when it comes to sustaining necessary infrastructure developments.
If members of our Board of Supervisors ever say, “We can spend more because of Walmart, or because of Harris Teeter, or because of whatever”, they are lying through their teeth.
Every dollar we earn ten years from now is going to pay for the infrastructure needs we have today. I know that seems pessimistic, but it is the truth. If you don’t want to retire in a Caroline County annoyed by massive tax increases, then you need to accept that in order to grow our county, our county is going to need to invest in business, and in order to invest in business, we’re going to have to pay first and receive benefits later. That means that we cannot, under any circumstance, spend arbitrary and initial revenue increases on whimsical projects and expenses.