James City County released its $164 million revised 2012 budget Tuesday, which includes an additional $3.1 million in projected revenue although spending is still curbed due to expected hurdles in 2013 and beyond. The budget represents a new direction for the county, as it cuts tourism funding to agencies and redirects that cash to in-house operations that will solicit tourism business.
New County Administrator Robert Middaugh was cautious when retooling the 2012 budget, his first budget in his new position. Though the county expects to bring in a few million more in revenues in the coming year, Middaugh recommends no increase in taxes or fees, no pay increase for employees (who haven’t gotten raises in three years), no hiring of new employees and a plan to sock away some extra funds for future use. While there is some additional funding for one-time expenses and a shuffling of various staff positions, the proposed budget suggests some further cuts to outside agencies, including a significant reduction to the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance as the county plans to start its own tourism marketing fund. The school system will receive more than previously planned but still won’t receive the full amount it requested (see budget details below).
The county’s budget includes an extra $3.1 million in projected 2012 revenues as well as an expected 2011 surplus of $3.3 million. “After three years of declining budgets it would be tempting to use the increase…to add to recurring spending,” Middaugh writes in his budget message. This money could go to fund outside agencies or could go to staff pay increases, but he cautions, “looking ahead to FY 2013 and FY 2014, this budget has to avoid the addition of recurring costs, if at all possible.”
More than $1 million in extra revenue will be set aside to pad debt service as a reserve in case the county needs it in the future, Middaugh said Tuesday.
Some of the challenges the budget aims to take into account include unavoidable increases in fuel prices, health insurance, equipment maintenance and electricity rates, as well as unfunded mandates, which all account for many of the new spending increases. The budget also looks ahead to next year when property tax assessments are re-evaluated and will likely dip between three and five percent, which could mean millions of lost revenue in FY 2013.
Other spending increases are in the “one-time” category, including capital projects such as the planned renovation of Building D and razing of Building C at the county complex, a watershed study, redistricting and the zoning ordinance update.
This proposal is a modification of the fiscal year 2012 budget adopted earlier (the county produces a biennial budget but still modifies the plan each year). Work sessions on April 14, 18 and 20 will be devoted to the budget, which is slated for adoption on April 26.
Read the budget in its entirety on the county’s website.
The county has fewer hotel rooms than neighboring York County and Williamsburg, but pays significantly more to the Alliance for tourism promotion of the Triangle. The new budget brings the county’s proposed 2012 share down to match the city’s contribution at $650,000, which Middaugh says is more equitable. In the previous version of the 2012 budget, the Alliance was slated to receive $875,000.
The county has a plan to spend the freed up dollars, however.
When Alliance President Dick Schreiber spoke to the Board of Supervisors and staff in January about his organization’s sports marketing plan, Middaugh at the time said he was concerned that sports marketing for the whole region was not a good deal for the county as it had a lion’s share of sports venues but fewer hotels and restaurants. This means less ‘revenue capture’ for the county, he said at the time. This is one of the reasons Middaugh proposes to use $280,000 to set up a tourism promotion fund to market the local economy, specifically.
The fund will help promote special events in the county as well as sports marketing for only county venues, which will help bolster revenues. The Board of Supervisors and the economic development office will be very engaged in this process, according to Middaugh.
When asked whether this will deal a blow to regional cooperation on tourism, Middaugh said he expects it will end up helping the other Triangle localities, as they have more hotels and businesses that would prosper should the county succeed.
The budget also reduces planned 2012 contributions to the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation (reduced by almost $30,000) and to Historic Jamestowne (by more than $10,000). Middaugh decided not to fund a request from the Williamsburg Hotel Motel Association, which has been looking for funding from all three localities this year but has had no luck so far.
While the budget doesn’t offer raises again for employees, Middaugh says in his budget statement that, due to inflationary pressures of rising costs across the board, “pay increases cannot be deferred beyond FY 2012.”
He points out the county has seen a tremendous surge in population growth over recent years, while the county has cut back staff numbers to make up for the poor economy. This means that staff workloads have significantly increased; a stress that “cannot continue indefinitely.”
“They’re troopers,” he said Tuesday of county staff, and they give excellent customer service and work hard. Asking them to go another year without raises “is not fair to our own folks.”
Some staff costs have increased in the proposed budget due to an unfunded mandate under the Line of Duty Act, which helps first responders in the event of a catastrophe. This will cost about $50,000.
Health insurance renewals account for a 4.3 percent increase in costs for county health plans in the budget.
Virginia Retirement System obligations will still be fully funded; employees hired after July 1, 2010, will not be required to pay their contribution for VRS as the General Assembly didn’t pass legislation that would allow for all employees to pay their share. If it comes to pass that all employees would be able to pay into the system, Middaugh would suggest the county do so and also give employees a raise.
The only new staff positions (aside from shifts described below) in the budget are temporary ones associated with upcoming elections, which will require extra precincts due to a higher population.
Some positions will be realigned in the budget for various reasons. Changes include: a Senior Planner will shift to the Economic Development office as a Retention Coordinator because the county wants to focus more on economic development; and a Development Management Assistant has been shifted to a Zoning Officer in a newly created Zoning Enforcement Division so the county can respond to complaints more quickly.
Several positions are being transferred from the Stormwater Division to other areas to better reflect the various duties performed. Development Management is intended to cover private projects under development, General Services covers the creation and maintenance of county infrastructure, and Engineering and Site Development covers floodplain and watershed management. The various transferred stormwater positions will be reorganized into these divisions based on the job performed.
Also, Code Compliance has been renamed the Division for Building Safety and Permits.
The revised 2012 budget allocates $74.2 million for WJCC schools and is $450,000 more than previously planned, but falls short of the school’s request by $525,000 because the county doesn’t want to pay into WJCC’s reserve teachers fund. This fund allows for the hire of extra teachers in case of unexpected increases in student population; on average the school system hires about 5 teachers through this fund each year.
Middaugh says if the schools find that they need extra money for something unexpected, they can come back to the county and ask
When possible, Middaugh says he wants to make sure the county is paying for actual services obtained through outside agencies, instead of simply paying for their general operations. This is why funding for Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Colonial Soil and Water Conservation District has been removed from this area of the budget and will instead be paid on a contract basis through other portions of the budget.
Funding for the Regional Air Service Enhancement Fund has been eliminated and some funding for other regional groups has been reduced, but generally outside agencies including education, environmental and public safety are receiving level funding.
The budget takes into account the operation of three new facilities: the new police building, the Freedom Park interpretive center and a new Fire Administration and Training Facility, which are all being opened with no increase in staff.
The Capital Projects Fund totals roughly $8.7 million with the majority going to expand Fire Station 4 on Olde Towne Road and renovations to Mid-County Park and Building D at the County Government Center. Few school projects are included.