Supervisors discuss Zion Crossroads water project funding

By Heather Michon

For the first time in several weeks, the COVID 19 pandemic was not the main focus of the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors at their regular meeting on Wednesday night (April 15), but it remained very much in the forefront of supervisors’ minds.

Chair Mike Sheridan (Columbia) and supervisors Mozell Booker (Fork Union) and Patricia Eager (Palmyra) remained at home and called into the meeting, which was broadcast live on the county’s YouTube channel.

Zion Crossroads funding

What otherwise might have been a routine shift in funding for the Zion Crossroads (ZXR) Water and Sewer Project turned into a lengthy discussion about county fund balances.

At the March 4 meeting, management analyst Liz McIver introduced a request to shift $2.75 million from the Unassigned Fund Balance to the ZXR project. With the end of the fiscal year coming up and the project moving along at a rapid pace, McIver explained that some of the money they had earmarked for FY21 would likely be needed in the final months of FY20.

Since March, they had reduced the request to $2.25 million

“This is a fairly substantial request coming out of the fund balance, and we had been planning for this for some time,” County Administrator Eric Dahl told supervisors, “but obviously, with COVID 19, this has changed some things a little bit.”

The county’s unassigned fund balance is currently $14.9 million and needs to stay at $9.1 million or above. A $2.25 million withdrawal would leave $12.26 million in the fund.

An alternative would involve funding the through debt service. Debt repayment could come out of the fund balance over the life of the loan.

“You could take the $150,000 out of fund balance, which is better than taking out $2.5 million,” said Supervisor Tony O’Brien (Rivanna). In his view, the project was in some ways underfunded from the start, with the county earmarking $8.5 million when it was likely to cost $10 million, so “we’re actually just going ahead and doing what we would have done up front.”

Keeping the unassigned fund balance high would also provide more flexibility if county finances were impacted by the pandemic and the near-certain economic recession as a result of the shutdown.

Finance Director Mary Anna Twisdale said the supervisors would probably need to take $500,000 out of the fund balance to cover ZXR bills through June 30, and plan on debt funding the remaining $1.75 million.

Palmyra resident Patty Reynard was the only member of the public to speak during the hearing. “I would definitely not be in agreement with taking on more debt,” she said, with the thought that this could lead to an increase in taxes for county residents already suffering in the economic downturn.

After a lengthy discussion on various funding proposals, they settled on a $500,000 withdrawal from unassigned fund balance and debt funding for the remainder. The motion passed 5-0.

Contract agent

The only other item on the agenda was the approval of a contract for a benefits agent for county employees.

Human Resources manager Jessica Rice explained that, under Virginia law, counties cannot directly enroll employees in insurance programs or sell them policies. “We’re required to have an agent of record for that service.”

After issuing a request for proposals, they selected First Financial Administrators (FFA) to replace Pierce Group Benefits, which had acted as agents from 2016 to the end of 2019.

FFA will provide professional consulting services to county employees, including administration of health savings plans and claims assistance. There is no cost to the county; commissions are paid to FFA by the county’s insurance carriers.

The motion passed 5-0.

Originally, the Board was scheduled to vote on the FY21 tax rate and budget, but decided at their April 8 meeting to delay their vote until the last possible day to see if they can get a better idea of the state’s response to the economic fallout of the pandemic. They will meet on April 29 for a work session, followed by the vote.­

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