I’d like to welcome Supervisor Claudia Duck Tucker to the discussion about Amherst County’s looming financial problems (“County’s on the right track,” Oct. 17). It would help, however, to get more than some swell-sounding talking points that have nothing to do with the spending issues Amherst County has.
Politicians like Tucker constantly deflect attention away from what they actually do by providing misleading information and/or claiming noble reasons for their actions such as funding our schools and investing in our school buildings.
Regarding the improvements made to our schools that Tucker addressed, allow me to provide some background information. Four years ago, representatives of the Amherst County Board of Supervisors and the Amherst County School Board began meeting to review the facility needs of Amherst County Public Schools. As chairman of the Amherst County School Board at that time, I participated in these meetings.
This effort culminated in an arrangement that addressed roofing needs, heating and air conditioning needs and lighting for all of our school buildings. Applying savings from previous debt payoffs for school projects and utility cost reductions from more energy efficient technology towards these needs allowed Amherst County to leverage a 2-cent tax rate increase to fund $22 million of improvements to our schools. For the residents of Amherst, all current school buildings were preserved for another generation of students for less than the cost of building one new school. This result is an example of an investment for the people of Amherst that actually saved taxpayers money and which demonstrated government leaders can take positive and efficient actions for the people by working together.
Yes, schools have new roofs, HVAC systems and LED lighting — but funding for these costs was arranged in advance of embarking on these projects. None of the deficit spending by the Board of Supervisors is attributable to providing extra funding for our school buildings. In addition, the current Amherst County Public Schools budget was fully funded, including the 5 percent raise for teachers and other staff, by increases in funding from the Commonwealth of Virginia. No additional local funding was provided for these expenses either. So, as I stated in my July 11 column in the New Era-Progress, “County spending unsustainable,” none of the $7 million of deficit spending over the last four budget years went to either capital projects or the annual operating budget for Amherst County Public Schools. To suggest otherwise is simply false.
So, what are Tucker and the Board of Supervisors spending our money on if not our schools? The reality is many more county employees, carpet and other maintenance expenses, equipment replacement and the recent reassessment to identify some of the most obvious expenses. For anyone reading this who isn’t sure, yes, these are recurring operating expenses. Is it any wonder an increasing number of Amherst County residents ask what do we have to show for the massive spending that has occurred over the last four years, let alone the huge tax increase now being bandied about to support the growth of county government?
Further, the “financial policy now in place to provide funds for future capital projects and keep reserves healthy” that Tucker referenced is merely window dressing by the politicians as they continue to spend more than the revenue they receive. You don’t have to be a math genius to know spending more than you receive reduces the savings account rather than adding funds for future needs as this comment suggests.
For this Board of Supervisors, more funds for future needs can only be achieved through much higher taxes — something the county administrator and some supervisors are already trying to sell as necessary because “the cost of doing everything rises higher every year.”
Tucker is correct that “The world is run by people who show up.” Attendance at Board of Supervisors meetings is sparse. The result is a Board of Supervisors that has been able to spend unchecked by county residents. This board has had the distinct benefit of dramatically increasing the size of county government without bringing attention to their actions since it was able to deplete our savings to pay for it rather than raise taxes. Now, as predicted, that savings is getting low and the politicians need more money to maintain and, based on spending ideas previously suggested, increase their spending.
Amherst residents who support big government, more spending and higher taxes to pay for this spending should be pleased with this Board of Supervisors. Amherst residents who support efficient government, local government living within its means and conservative tax rates that remain competitive with all neighboring counties should start informing the Board of Supervisors they need to change course.
Last year, the impact of a 5-cent tax increase was addressed at a Board of Supervisors meeting. This year, they speak about a 13-cent tax increase. If Amherst residents don’t get involved, it’s only going to get worse, much worse.
Wood, a resident of Madison Heights, is a former member of the Amherst County School Board. He wrote this column for the New Era-Progress.