After a budget season that was anything but conventional, the Nelson County Board of Supervisors on June 18 approved its fiscal year 2021 budget.
During the meeting, supervisors took turns advocating for last-minute changes to be made to the budget before approving it.
Among changes were an additional $1 million — made available by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — to the general fund balance, bringing the total to just shy of $38 million. Supervisors also signed off on an extra $500,000 allocated to the Nelson County Public Schools’ budget.
The school system’s budget for fiscal year 2021, which begins July 1, now rests at $27,262,803.
No pay raises are included in the next fiscal year for county employees.
Director of Finance Candy McGarry said as of June 15, the division was saddled with additional expenses since the public hearing held the prior week, bringing the school’s total defecit to $678,000, about $100,000 more than what was presented earlier in the month.
Supervisors approved the additional $500,000 in a split 3-2 vote.
While all supervisors backed supporting the school system with extra money, some didn’t meet eye to eye on just how much extra money to give.
Central District Supervisor Ernie Reed and South District Supervisor Robert Barton — who served for decades as an educator for Nelson County Public Schools — voted no on the measure as they had advocated for the schools to receive more funding.
West District Supervisor David Parr, a 16-year veteran of the Nelson County School Board, said while he supports the schools, the board should be conscious of fiscal responsibility and the needs of other departments.
North District Supervisor and Chairman Tommy Harvey said he believed giving the schools an extra half-million dollars was “more than adequate” to handle any unforeseen challenges the division may face next year in regards to changes brought by COVID-19. The extra money would allow the division to have something resembling a contingency fund.
Reed said he supported funding the entire amount the division had requested.
“That’s exactly what the contingency fund is for. It’s for dealing with emergency situations that have to be dealt with quickly and I feel like that’s what this is,” Ernie Reed said of the schools’ budget shortfall.
Barton agreed. He and Reed said school administration would benefit from having the money in their hands so it can be spent as officials see fit.
“I think it would be in our interest and the interest of the people of Nelson County and the children of Nelson County to go ahead and make that money available to them,” Barton said.
Harvey noted at the end of budget deliberations he had wished the board could have come to a consensus on school funding, rather than the split vote.
Overall though, he said he was happy with what the county has been able to accomplish — noting the tax relief provided to Nelson County residents for personal property taxes due June 5 — given the many unknowns and challenges that have punctuated the budget process.
“This is a remarkable budget for the times that we are in and the things that we’ve been able to accomplish. And it didn’t happen overnight, this has been over a long period of time,” Harvey said.
East District Supervisor Jesse Rutherford said he hopes the extra money proves the county’s dedication to youth and to schools in Nelson County.
“It’s a tough year,” Rutherford said. “One thing I don’t want to see happen is those feelings as though we’re not supporting our youth, because we are and we do care.”
Other budget amendments include supervisors’ unanimous approval to level fund the Community Development Foundation which would provide the organization an additional $17,000. Supervisors noted the foundation plays a vital role in making affordable housing available in the county.
In another split 3-2 vote, supervisors approved a motion to allocate $3,000 for the animal control department to be equipped with firearms and to provide staff with the requisite training.
Parr, who proposed the money be added back into the budget, noted the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office had agreed to sponsor the training for the animal control officers and that of 13 surrounding counties, Nelson County was the only one not equipping officers with firearms.
Barton expressed concern over equipping animal control personnel with guns, saying they should not be in a position where one would be needed in the first place.
While Harvey said he was in favor of animal control officers carrying weapons, he said he would like to see officers first get approval by the county’s administration office and the board before being issued a gun.
Supervisors opted not to allocate money for the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office to receive new vehicles. Originally brought up by Rutherford, other supervisors felt it would be more appropriate to wait and provide the funds as the year goes on.
“As long as we’re not closing that door for the future, I’m open to moving on now, but I do think we’re going to be in a position next year where we might need to address that again,” Parr said.
Reach Cropper at (434) 385-5522.