Supervisors, School Board Wrestle with Budgets

Constitutional officers ask for modest budget increases

By Heather Michon

Fluvanna County’s constitutional officers met with the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday (Feb. 12) for their work session on the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget.


At the previous week’s meeting, County Administrator Eric Dahl proposed a $84.5 million budget, an increase of around 2 percent over FY20.  Most departments are asking for only modest increases, if any at all.

“There is no slush in this,” said Treasurer Linda Lenherr. “It is bare bones, and hopefully it will be sufficient to carry my officer for the year.”

Lenherr’s FY20 budget was $503,146, She has requested a 1.3 percent increase to $509,493. Dahl proposed budget would give her a 1.6 percent decrease to $495,166.

Commissioner of the Revenue Andrew Sheridan requested “a pretty anemic increase” of 0.6 percent, from $378,691 to $380,906.


Commonwealth’s Attorney Jeffrey Haislip’s request were actually down by a few hundred dollars, from $518,981 in FY20 to $518,531 for FY21. However, he has proposed a 3 percent increase in salary for two of his staff members, using unexpended funds from FY20.

Haislip explained that these staffers had seen an increased workload thanks to a mandate passed on to prosecutors by the state last summer that requires the review of all law enforcement body cam footage. Between August 2019 and this month, he said his office received 131 hours of footage for review.


Sheriff Eric Hess has requested a 2.7 percent increase, from 3,364,557 in FY20 to $3,455,215 in FY21. Dahl has proposed a 1.3 percent decrease, to $3,319,849.

Hess spoke at some length about the wider issue facing all law enforcement agencies today: recruitment and retention. Statewide, there are more than 1,000 vacant positions in law enforcement and prison staff. In December, Human Resources head Jessica Rice told supervisors that the department hadn’t been fully staffed since 2017.

Law enforcement is a less appealing career path for young people today than in times past, due in large part to low pay. “When they come here and you interview them and you tell them what the starting pay is, they look at you like you’re crazy,” said Hess.

Over the past few years, Fluvanna’s starting salary for deputies has gone from one of the highest to one of the lowest in the region. Supervisors recently approved an increase in the signing bonus for new hires to from $3,000 to $5,000. But uncertainty over long term pay increases and benefits, along with the stress of the job, makes retention difficult.

Hess sees this as an issue which could become critical for the county in the near future. “In the next five years, I have nine people that can retire,” including two as early as this July. If they can’t increase recruitment, the department will only fall further behind, and eventually could start to impact their ability to provide service to the community.

Hess added that this wasn’t strictly a budget issue, and that he was working with Human Resources and other departments to come up with a plan, which he hoped to present to them at a future date.


Clerk of the Circuit Court Tristana Treadway said most of her requests would be reimbursed in grant money throughout the year.

One item she did advocate for was a $50,000 expenditure to start a drug court in Fluvanna County.

Drug courts tackle substance abuse cases as a partnership between the defendant, the courts, law enforcement, social services, and mental health providers. Rather than a jail sentence, defendants are offered an opportunity for court-supervised treatment programs. They have been shown to be highly effective in reducing recidivism.

With support from Hess, Haislip, and Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore, work began about a year ago on developing a drug court program. Treadway said it would take an initial investment of about $50,000 to hire a part-time caseworker and pay incidental expenses. Once up and running, it was likely that they could get grant funding for the position going forward. “They don’t want to send money somewhere before you start to have a collapse and the money doesn’t go anywhere,” she explained.

Beyond the moral imperative to help people suffering from serious substance abuse problems, drug courts can also lower costs for localities. Judge Moore said that the costs are “somewhere between $3,000 and $6,000 per person per year, whereas jail is roughly $26,000 to $30,000 a year.”

With Supervisor Patricia Eager (Palmyra) absent for the evening, Chair Mike Sheridan (Columbia) suggested they delay discussion about issues raised during the session until she could participate. Work on the budget will continue for the next several weeks, with a vote on the finalized version scheduled for mid-April.


School Board approves FY2021 budget request

By Ruthann Carr

In a 3-2 vote Wednesday (Feb. 12) the Fluvanna County School Board passed a FY21 budget amount of $43,330,198 to present to the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 19.

Perrie Johnson (Fork Union) James Kelly (Palmyra) and Shirley Stewart (Rivanna) voted for the budget; Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) and Andrew Pullen (Columbia) voted against.

Pullen said he didn’t vote against the dollar figure as much as he did how it might be appropriated.

“I’m going to vote no for the same reason I’ve voted no in years past,” Pullen said during motion discussion. “I think we need to redirect the funding. I’m not as opposed to the amount as much I am opposed to where the money is going. I think we need to do more to take care of the staff we have now rather than extending ourselves with more staff – in terms of health insurance and holding them harmless…”

Rittenhouse said he was opposed to the increased budget.

“This year we’re asking for $649,000 over last year,” he said.

The Board voted unanimously to hire a collections firm to try and recoup more than $40,000 in cafeteria debt.

Superintendent Chuck Winkler said the program will cost $3,500 and the schools will split 50/50 with the collection agency any amount recovered.

Jimmy Mootz, outreach education coordinator at the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, gave a brief presentation about hunter safety education courses. He emphasized that in addition to hunter safety, they also teach conservation.

Pullen has asked that the schools make such a course part of the curriculum.

Winkler said this year the schools will not add the course to the curriculum but will offer the course to those who want to take it on evenings or weekends at one of the school buildings.

Besides reporting on the solar project and the Carysbrook roof work completion, Winkler said he met with representatives of the Fluvanna NAACP.

“We held a joint meeting with the educational partners of the local NAACP,” he said. “We reviewed student demographics, testing results, but more importantly, we discussed strategies to make a difference as we continue to work together.”

Across the nation as well as in Fluvanna, minority students are disproportionally absent and disciplined.

Winkler said he “I want to develop and bring to attention what’s called an equity lens.”

The Board will consider having a seminar to discuss strategies for engaging minorities to insure academic success.

Don Stribling, executive director of human resources, operations, and student services, offered the Board a first review of the proposed 2020/2021 school calendar. On it, students would return to school on August 11, have two weeks off at Christmas and end the year on May 21. He asked the Board to consider approving the draft at the March meeting.

Each of the building administrators presented a mid-year report on their continuous improvement plans.

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