More Tough Budgets Likely
By Sarah Steele Wilson
Oct 17, 2012, 18:56
This year’s budget cycle left many regional localities struggling to trim fat and save costs, a situation that is expected to arise again next year.
“The reality is, our budgets are not going to get any better,” said Virginia Delegate Rick Morris, R-64 speaking to a room of government officials in Prince George County on Tuesday morning. “There is not going to be an increase of funding coming from the state to the localities. That’s a reality.”
Morris has been making the rounds of localities in his district to start conversations about ways in which school boards and governing boards can work together to cut costs as much as possible. On Tuesday, he told the Prince George group that other localities he has visited have identified ways to save funds by making adjustments to transportation and software. He said that even changing the way the two boards purchase materials, by working together to buy in bulk, can save money.
“Its’ just being smart buyers and things of that nature to reduce expenses,” he said.
He likened the process to clipping for coupons.
“Every little bit counts,” said Morris who is currently serving his first term in the General Assembly. “I think it’s important for our tax payers that we have that same perspective. Every little bit counts.”
Although there is already a fair amount of collaboration between the school board and board of supervisors in Prince George, a fact noted by representatives of both bodies at the meeting, County Administrator Percy Ashcraft said he came away from the conversation with some ideas about additional avenues for collaboration.
He said that there are opportunities to look more closely at joint purchasing, health insurance savings and building efficiencies, something the he said the county plans to examine intensely in the coming year.
A problem that was highlighted in the meeting was the fact that sometimes saving money requires spending money that is not available.
For years, the county has wanted to construct a joint equipment garage to be shared between the two boards, but the project has never been funded.
“It’s like everything else,” school board member Robert Cox said discussing the equipment garage with Morris at the meeting. “It’s dependent on funding. You’ve got to have money to build and right now, with the way things are, we don’t have a lot of money that we can go outside of our normal routine business to have the luxury items that would recognize savings down the road.”
Cox also expressed a sentiment that seemed to be shared by many in the room that Prince George has already done almost everything it can to save money while still providing quality services.
“From the state level to the federal level, we’re being cut on every corner and it’s being passed down to us,” Cox said. “Our feet are being held to the fire to perform better with less.”
The meeting also provided the opportunity for the board of supervisors to speak directly with a state representatives about the unfunded mandates that mean the county has to spend its money on requirements put in place by the state.
“That certainly has been a costly thing, Rick, some of these mandates,” Prince George Board of Supervisors chairman Henry Parker said, noting the county has always been fiscally responsible with its funds.
Parker also raised the topic of the inmates at Riverside Regional Jail, which requires a fairly large county expenditure every year.
“Whey is it that the state can’t take their prisoners when they sit here for six months to a year and they’ve been convicted here in our courts and are property of the state?” he asked. “That’s hurting us.”
Morris said he would find an answer to that question.
“We’re not trying to get a decision made today about what can be done, but just get a conversation started,” Morris said.
Cox proposed an idea that caught Morris’s attention as something that has worked well in other localities: Forming a committee or task force with representatives from the school board and board of supervisors as well as the community at large.
Cox said that community members participated in the planning process when the county built J.E.J. Moore Middle School and were able to propose fresh ideas and relay the opinions of county residents to board members. Morris said he would help the group by offering insight on matters related to the state.
“I’m going to take it back to my board members,” Cox said of the idea after the meeting, noting both boards would have to approve such a plan.
“Nobody really jumped on it,” said Supervisor Jerry Skalsky, speaking after the meeting.
He said that the concept of collaborating with the school board is not new to the board of supervisors.
“It’s not really a new concept,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of that before.”