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Virginia: No Tax Hike to Re-Open Abuse Shelter

Only $10k for Hope’s Wings:
Health Board Leaves Tax Rate Unchanged

Bill Robinson

June 4, 2010

RICHMOND — The Madison County Board of Health voted Wednesday to leave its property tax rate unchanged at 5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

The board backed away from a proposal to raise the tax rate to provide up to $360,000 for the Hope’s Wings domestic violence shelter, which has been closed since the end of February because of a lack of operating funds.

However, the 2010-11 fiscal year budget does include $10,000 that will be matched by a $5,000 contribution from Kentucky River Foothills Community Action Partnership to pay a grant writer to work on behalf of Hope’s Wings.

Although he and members of the board believe domestic violence is a significant public health issue in the community, several factors led to leaving major funding for Hope’s Wings out of the budget, said Jim Rousey, health department director.

The state Cabinet for Health and Family Services informed Rousey on Wednesday that it would not support action by the local board to fund a domestic violence shelter.

Also, the department faces a decrease in state appropriations, Rousey said, even as costs for employee health insurance and pension fund contributions increase significantly. The new budget also includes a 4 percent pay increase for employees, all of whom received no raise last year.

The board had received comments from the community opposing increased taxes to expand health department services beyond their traditional scope by funding Hope’s Wings, Rousey said.

Citizens and board members had expressed reservations about committing to large amounts of money for the shelter, when other organizations that provide health-related services also are struggling for funds.

The health department could not assume direct management of the shelter, raising concern among board members about oversight and liability issues, according to Rousey.

The health department will continue to play a role in the prevention of domestic violence, recognizing occurrences and making referrals, Rousey said.

The department’s clinic staff and the nurses it provides under contract to the school district are trained to recognize signs of domestic violence and make referrals. The department’s HANDS program has made measurable progress in reducing instances of domestic violence by training parents how to refrain from aggressive actions, he said.

Keeping the same tax will still mean an increase in revenue because of an increase in the tax base from new construction and reassessment of existing property, said David Reed, health department finance director.

More than $2 million was generated by the property tax last year, with the same rate expected to yield about $2.25 million in the coming year, Reed said, an increase of more than 8 percent. Health departments are exempt from House Bill 44 limitations that make new tax rates which generate more than a 4 percent revenue increase subject to a recall referendum.

To offset decreased state aid and rising employee benefit costs of nearly $300,000, as well as pay raises, the department will reduce staff through a combination of attrition and layoffs, Rousey said. Also, no overtime was budgeted for the coming year.

Some employees who are retiring or leaving for other reasons will not be replaced, but up to seven employees will be laid off, he said. All employees were told of the board’s actions Thursday morning, although no specific layoff notices were given.

The recently passed state budget may included some relief for the state-mandated increase in pension fund contributions, Rousey said. Depending on the amount of the relief, the number of layoffs could be reduced.

Despite the 4 percent raises, the layoffs will reduce total salary costs by more than $150,000, to nearly $6.5 million.

Because the department had become overstaffed in some areas, such as staff to inspect septic tanks, Rousey said he expected the quality of services provided to be undiminished. The dramatic drop in home construction has lowered the number of sanitation inspections needed.

Source: http://richmondregister.com/localnews/x1358970666/Only-10k-for-Hope-s-Wings

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