School fiscal issues remain unresolved

Jackie Nunnery

by Jackie Nunnery

HEATHSVILLE—A finance update during the Thursday, July 13, Northumberland board of supervisors meeting again created tension as supervisors refused to approve school budget category transfers to give employees a promised 5% raise. A meeting was called for Tuesday, July 18, to reconsider the requests.

The schools also requested categorical transfers from instruction to cover the 5% raises for other staff. When supervisors approved and appropriated a $21,653,715 budget, they did so by category, placing the $664,986 needed for the raises all in instruction, totaling $15,938,814. They asked for $44,988.30 to be transferred to administration and health; $31,065.71 to operation and maintenance, and $15,932.49 to technology. Another $62,259.48 was requested from transportation to cover the raises as well as some of the health insurance that bus drivers will now receive.

Supervisors instead focused on the two part-time consultants who were hired to help with reimbursements and are paid through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, and a CPA who had been hired as a consultant in response to the audit to review past and current finance practices.

Supervisors Richard Haynie, Thomas Tomlin and James Brann questioned why the contracts were not posted on the school’s website for the public to see. Brann said, “When we have a contract, it’s public knowledge.”

Haynie made a motion to table a vote on the category transfers until the schools provide a total cost and contracts for the three positions. It failed in a 2-2 vote with Haynie and Brann voting in favor and Tomlin and supervisor James Long voting against. Supervisor Ronald Jett was absent.

“You’re messing with people’s livelihoods,” Long said about delaying the transfer. Long’s motion to approve the transfers also failed in a 2-2 vote with Long and Tomlin voting in favor, Haynie and Brann voting against.

School finance director Tara Booth informed supervisors that reconciliations are up to date through May. Booth added that the county had received $1,625,014.31 in reimbursements since April and an additional $951,897.26 was scheduled to be reimbursed. Another $334,000 was approved and expected by the end of July.

School superintendent Dr. Holly Wargo noted the two consultants are “bringing millions back to the county coffers and the deadline (for reimbursements) is September 30. It’s money well used. I really hoped that you would have pushed this forward so that we could do the 5% for all our employees.”

Broadband update

The regional broadband project underway with Dominion Energy and Northern Neck Electric Cooperative is on schedule according to Tom Innes, vice president of development with All Points Broadband. Innes said a network lighting event where they will connect the first business or home will take place the end of July or early August. Substantial completion of the network in the northern part of the county will be complete in September. “That means that just about every customer could sign up for service” in that part of the county. The rest of the county network will be completed by May 2024.

While no commitments or schedules were discussed regarding those that are not part of this phase of roughly 2,000 unserved homes, Innes said the network they are building “represented a long-term investment” and that additional money, some $1.48 billion for broadband expansion in Virginia, is available through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program as part of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Funds would be dispersed through Virginia Telecommunication Initiative grants.

“We’re going to get as much as we can for Northumberland County,” said Innes.

Other action

In 4-0 votes the board:

• Entered a memorandum of agreement to join Middle Peninsula/Northern Neck Regional Radio System.

• Awarded a county fuel contract to NWP Energy at a variable rate.

• Approved a $600 match to a $5,765.50 grant to the anti-litter committee.

• Accepted a Virginia Department of Energy Management GIS software grant of $3,000.

• Authorized a $19,200 annual contract for a sheriff’s office dedicated line for internet access.