This week, the Board of Supervisors begins its review of the 2007-08 Albemarle County budget. The school division has requested about $151 million, an amount balanced to the revenues we expected the County to receive by keeping the tax rate at $0.74 per $100 of assessed value. The County Executive, Bob Tucker, has taken the School Board's request and folded it into his budget recommendations for the Supervisors. As the ledger currently stands, the school division's request has been trimmed by $1.92 million. About $1.8 million of that amount comes from the set-aside of 2 cents of the tax rate, something Mr. Tucker was instructed to do on January 10, 2007 by the Board of Supervisors (after the Superintendent had already completed her draft budget). In response to the 11th hour change, the Superintendent presented the School Board with a funding request that honored this request and came in at about $149 million. She also identified the following categories of unfunded initiatives:
- $1.8 million - Tier I "essential unfunded initiatives" (i.e. these were in her budget before the tax rate set-aside)
- $1.4 million - Tier II "needed unfunded initiatives"
- $1.2 million - Tier III "unfunded extension initiatives"
On February 14th, we learned that the living wage proposal was not going to receive support from the joint boards this year (our starting wage is proposed to be $9.10/hr. in this budget whereas a living wage was identified at $11.07). Abandoning that initiative allowed for some of the Tier I initiatives to become "funded" again since the Superintendent had included partial funding of a living wage in her budget. In fact, the School Board was persuaded that ALL of Tier I and some of the Tier II initiatives should receive support as essential needs for the school division. Thus the funding request we submitted on a unanimous vote to the Board of Supervisors utilized the 2 cents of the tax rate which had been set aside. This funding request from the school division has my support and I believe it goes a long way towards supporting goals in our strategic plan.
Mr. Tucker has prepared an overall County budget based on maintaining the tax rate at $0.74 cents. He has also created a "reassessment reserve" of $3.5 million which the Board of Supervisors will discuss how to allocate. Key issues before the Supervisors include not only setting the tax rate and deciding what to do with the reserve, but also thinking about the County's long term needs.
These two charts show a view of the long-term picture (5 years) for both local government and the school division if we keep the tax rate at its current level and pursue priority strategic initiatives and capital needs. As you can see, in neither budget is there projected to be enough revenue.
As the community reviews the school division's budget and prepares to give feedback to the Board of Supervisors at their public hearing this Wednesday, it should do so knowing that all the elected officials are, in my opinion, trying to balance the tax burden (rising with increased assessments and growth in the community) with the goals that the community has helped identify in the comprehensive plan and the strategic plans for local government and the school division. All of these goals have been set with a tremendous amount of community input. Our efforts are also challenged by Federal and State governments that are not fully funding mandated programs and essential services, thus shifting the burden to local government. The revenue generating tool local government depends on the most is the local real estate property tax.