Supervisors mull school request for a “historical ask” budget

By Heather Michon

Fluvanna County Public Schools Superintendent Peter Gretz presented the School Board’s newly-adopted $53.7 million budget for FY24. 

This package includes a request of $22,402,764 in local funding – almost $2.7 million more than approved by the Board of Supervisors in the FY23 budget.

If adopted, Gretz said the funding would allow the schools to meet a long list of goals and help them comply with a variety of state mandates. With behavioral issues on the rise, the budget also anticipates hiring a district-wide Coordinator for Mental Health and retaining four Behavioral Support Aides created under now-expired COVID-era federal funding. 

But the largest piece of the request was focused on compensation for teachers and staff. 

Gretz and School Board Chair James Kelley explained that a survey of salaries in four other area school systems showed that Fluvanna came in dead last in terms of compensation, trailing well behind the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle, Louisa, and Goochland counties. This makes both recruitment and retention of qualified staff a challenge.

The proposed budget would increase salaries by 7-13 percent and bring at least some positions in line with school systems like Louisa and Goochland.

Kelley said he realized the size of the local funding request “is a departure from historical asks,” but they had attempted to base the budget on critical needs rather than “what we think the county can afford or finds palatable.”

The compensation survey was something Kelley said he had pushed for since the start of his term and now that it was done “you can’t unring that bell, and bringing  that data forward and showing the public and showing our employees just how underpaid they are by comparison is something you can’t undo.” 

He said that this budget, while “woefully inadequate” to meet their needs on some levels, still represented a positive step forward and would benefit not just students and teachers, but the county as a whole.

The supervisors now have several weeks to look at the proposal and come to a decision on how much the county can allocate to the school system. 

Mike Sheridan (Columbia) said he was looking at two numbers, “8.1 and 12. To cover $2.6 million, it’s 8.1 cents – a 12 percent [tax] increase just to cover the schools. I know we’re not going to make a decision tonight, but I did the math…and we’ve got to justify that to everybody in the county, those people that are on fixed incomes, everybody.”

County Administrator Eric Dahl reminded board members that they had to set a maximum advertised tax rate no later than their March 15 meeting, although they have the option to choose a rate below the maximum when they set rates and approve the full budget package in April. 

Approval for materials recovery facility

During the regular meeting following the school board presentation, supervisors held a public hearing on a special use permit requested by S.B. Cox. 

The Richmond-based demolition and recycling company has proposed a 16-acre facility on a 90-acre site off Rt. 250 capable of handling up to 1,000 tons of material a day.

Residents of Memory Lane and the nearby Fox Glen subdivision have shared their concerns about the impact of traffic and possible noise pollution on their quality of life. Those living on Memory Lane could see up to 100 trucks a day passing up and down their street.

Ann Neal Cosby stressed that S.B. Cox was a family-owned local business with a commitment to working with the community to make the least amount of impact on surrounding residents. 

The first speaker during the public hearing was Andrea Johnson, an executive of van der Linde Recycling, which has its own major recycling operation less than three miles from the proposed S.B. Cox site. 

Johnson said, if approved, the new facility would be a “direct threat to our continued existence.” She stressed that van der Linde had invested $36 million in their Fluvanna facility and the surrounding community since 2008 and was one of the county’s largest employers.

Residents of Memory Lane and Fox Glen also voiced their concerns about noise, traffic, and the loss of more of Fluvanna’s rural character.

Supervisors had a lengthy discussion over the project and questioned S.B. Cox representatives over potential solutions. The company’s president agreed to build an eight-foot-tall berm to shield adjacent properties from noise and committed to the cleanup and monitoring of streams that passed through the property, along with a modification of some operating hours.

Supervisors accepted additional proffers and approved the special use permit by a vote of 5-0.

Kents Store fire department cleanup

Supervisors unanimously approved three items regarding the cleanup of the Kents Store Fire Company following a major sewage leak caused by a plumbing contractor in late January. 

Dahl gave a detailed account of the blackwater spill that occurred on Jan. 25 and the county’s actions in the days that followed. 

Both the county and the fire department contracted environmental health companies to inspect the building and make recommendations. Rainbow Restoration began the remediation process on Feb. 6.

Supervisors approved a $24,138 contract for remediation and $30,196 contract for the replacement of ruined furniture and other items. They also approved a fund request for $63,000 for the project, most of which is likely to be returned by the plumbing company’s insurers.

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