County Administrator Charles Culley painted a positive picture of Caroline County’s growth in fiscal year 2014 and prospects for fiscal year 2015 at the State-of-the-County event held Thursday, April 24, sponsored by the Caroline Chamber of Commerce.
“Overall, the state of the county is positive and improving,” said Culley. “We’re paying our bills, we’re moving forward.”
Culley’s speech, delivered to a small audience at the Caroline Community Center, mainly focused on the FY2015 budget, which he described as “an austere spending plan with the primary goal of limiting tax increases largely to what is needed to cover debt service.”
Two major contributors to that debt that Culley highlighted were the $26 million renovations to Caroline High School and Madison Elementary School that passed in a bond referendum with more than 80 percent voter support in November 2013, and the $6.6 million borrowing for a public safety radio system that will bring the county into compliance with the Federal Communications Commission’s narrowband mandate and significantly improve radio coverage throughout the county.
Culley emphasized the connection between the school renovations and new radio system and the 11-cent real estate tax increase approved by the Board of Supervisors in April, which will first take effect for the June 2014 billings.
“We borrowed $32 million and we have to pay for it,” said Culley. “That was . . . the driving factor behind the 11-cent tax increase in the budget.”
That revenue will be used to balance both this year and next year’s budget, said Culley. The county administrator also anticipates increased revenues for FY15 from personal property, meals, and sales taxes. A “significant” increase in revenue is expected from motor vehicle license fees because of improved collections. Revenues from the lodging tax and the state are expected to decrease, although the latter is subject to change depending on the resolution of the current budget situation in Richmond.
In order to minimize tax increases, Culley noted that capital purchases, such as new school buses or fire and rescue vehicles, will be delayed until future years.
When discussing expenditures, Culley noted that 26.9 percent of the General Fund will go to the public school system in FY2015, a 3.1 percent increase over FY2014, and stated that the increase in local funding for the school operating budget “demonstrates a continued commitment to education.”
“I know the schools asked for $2.8 million (in the FY2015 budget), but the Board tried to do what they thought was responsible with taxpayer dollars and what we had to work with,” he said.
In terms of economic development and tourism, “2013 was a good year for business expansion in Caroline County,” said Culley, citing new jobs and increased investment, such as the filing of plans for a Taco Bell in Carmel Church and an Advance Auto in Ladysmith.
“From a business perspective, there’s a lot of interest,” said Culley. “Caroline County has positioned itself well to attract industrial and commercial development.”
The unemployment rate rose from 5.6 percent in December 2013 to 6.9 percent in January 2014. However, because of seasonal employment and the advertisement of jobs that have not yet been filled, Culley said that these figures may not accurately portray the whole picture.
“From December to January, we added 225 jobs,” said Culley. “Caroline employment is expanding.”
Finally, Culley highlighted the “striking improvements” in the Virginia State Fair over the past year, as well as the opening of the Sidney E. King Arts Center in Bowling Green in September. Earlier in April, the Caroline County Economic Development and Tourism Department was awarded a Community Economic Development Award by the Virginia Economic Developers Association for its involvement in the King Center.