The first of school budget input meetings took place on January 3, 2013 at James River High School. Not one citizen showed up for the meeting.
However, county and school officials and elected officials had plenty to say. Besides media, those who attended included county administrator Kathleen Guzi, school superintendent Dr. Tony Brads, assistant county Administrator David Moorman, School financial whizzes Dr. Brian Austin and Sam Foster, Botetourt County Financial Officer Tony Zerilla, Supervisors Terry Austin and Jack Leffel, school board members Kathy Sullivan and John Alderson, JRHS principal Jamie Talbott, AD Sheila Proffit, Kathy Austin and Sheriff Ronnie Sprinkle.
Both the county and the school division agreed to keep dialogue open in what is likely to be another tight budget year. While building permits have increased slightly, growth is still at bare bones in the county. Tourism and Recreation hold high hopes with county officials noted in the meeting, but in reality bring in no real estate, personal property or tools and machinery taxes which are regular sources of funds.
No one around the room expected the state to be of much help. For the past few years, the state has continually stepped away leaving the locality to make the changes. Jack Leffel, Fincastle Supervisor said, “We need to know it will be up to Botetourt county to make things work.”
The big topics of the night included school safety with kudos going out to the Sheriff’s Department from around the table. The BV reported yesterday that Sprinkle has asked for 5 additional deputies so that each school will have a school resource officer– in other words an armed, trained deputy on site.
Terry Austin, Buchanan supervisor repeated a mantra of ” no money” through out the night to most of the topics on the table.
However, economic development was a hot topic of the night to generate revenue to keep the county up to standards. Currently, Botetourt County has no economic development office. A deputy county administrator position has not been filled and could perhaps be the place to start for an economic director, John Alderson who is the Fincastle school board representative said. School Boards cannot raise funds. Counties can. Kathy Sullivan echoed that the school board endorses aggressive pursuit of economic development to keep the offerings to students up to current standards.
Businesses at Exit 150 have questions about what effect the Exit 150 improvements (which will now be bid in 2014 instead of 2013 according to Austin.) will have on their bottom line since in county meetings a $100,00o loss in revenue has been mentioned. Where does the money flow–all from Truck Stops of America or is it a compiled effect. Guzi responded the plans were prior to her time and VDOT would have to answer the concerns. Facts are meals and hotel taxes go to Botetourt County and there has been no dialogue as of yet with the enterprises around the Exit 150 as to what to expect or prepare for during the construction activities on the roads.
Austin promised to look into the sign ordinance at Strategic Planning meetings the Board plans to have in the next few weeks. He said, “We have a motto we used on the state level “Botetourt is open for business.” Economic development aggressively pursued was the most talked about topic for the rest of the evening. However, it is logical to realize that new business is not acquired over night and looking down the road though not specifically mentioned, there could likely be another tax increase to provide money to the county coffers.
Talbott brought up on a side note the caring of JRHS students in assisting Staunton River students receive the Toy Mountain concert after the school loosing four students in car accidents this fall.
The next public forum for school budget input is January 8, 2013 Read Mountain Middle School, 7 p.m. in the school Forum.