Wise County schools, county administration look at pandemic budget plans

Mike Still • May 15, 2020 at 8:00 AM

WISE — The Wise County Board of Supervisors heard the county school system’s proposed budget on Thursday along with a glimpse of the county’s own pandemic-related budget issues in fiscal year 2020-21.

Schools Superintendent Greg Mullins and schools Budget Director Beth Shupe presented the supervisors the division’s planned budget for next fiscal year. Shupe said the $63.42 million plan has $1.3 million “unallocated” by the state but still includes a projected $11.4 million in county funding.

Shupe said the state Board of Education recommended that school districts present their budgets to county and city governing bodies as-is except for the projected state funding cuts pending a planned fall General Assembly session to assess budget and revenue impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mullins on Wednesday said that county revenue losses heading into next fiscal year could reach $800,000. While no decision has been made yet on how that loss will affect the schools’ budget request, Mullins said the school budget would normally be about 40% of the total county budget.

Supervisor James Lawson asked Shup what kinds of savings the division has seen in the wake of Gov. Ralph Northam’s decision to shut down the state’s public schools for in-person classes. Shupe said that was still being assessed because of the division’s efforts in supplying and transporting meals to students during the pandemic.

Shupe asked the board to consider allowing the school system to carry over any savings from the current budget if the division has to absorb county funding cuts for next fiscal year.

Shupe said the division should see an extra $1.3 million in federal CARES Act pandemic relief funds, but that amount will have to cover two years.

County Administrator Mike Hatfield followed up the school budget picture with some budget projections of his own. The county’s draft budget of $56.17 million is also based on no effect from the pandemic for now, he told the supervisors.

The budget features no increases in any county taxes but projects a decrease in coal severance taxes and a projected “slight” sales tax revenue increase, Hatfield said. Thanks to projected receipts from online sales taxes, projected county revenues were budgeted to increase by $651,000 even with declining sales tax revenues from in-county physical businesses.

School system debt from consolidation-related construction was expected to increase by $1.05 million next fiscal year, Hatfield said.

Major spending categories in next year’s draft budget plan include:

• $16.13 million in local funding for schools

• $12.14 million for Social Services

• $4.99 million for law enforcement and 911 service

• $3.15 million for the county’s share of the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority

• $2.07 million for landfill and trash collection

• $1.3 million for the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office

Hatfield said that county spending will be scrutinized in the first part of next year’s budget cycle as effects from the pandemic become clearer.

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