Clarke fiscal outlook filled with uncertainty

Posted: January 23, 2013

The Winchester Star

BERRYVILLE — It looks like it will be another “very tight year,” as far as revenue to run Clarke County in 2014 is concerned.

Michael Hobert, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, had that assessment after Tuesday evening’s first meeting of the Finance Committee on the budget.

Hobert and Supervisor David Weiss — who are both members of the Finance Committee — examined revenue projections and looked at how the 2013 spending plan is working out.

Revenue estimates for the current fiscal year are roughly $25.2 million, while the early estimates for the 2014 spending plan currently fall at about $25.1 million.

But there are still many variables.

The good news, according to Finance Director Thomas Judge, is that local sales tax “looks strong” during the first four months of the 2013 budget, which began July 1.

Virginia, Judge added, “is predicting better for next year.”

But County Administrator David Ash threw a little cold water on that assumption by pointing out that the estimate is “statewide” and may not apply to every locality.

Still ahead is a General Assembly session that could alter the budget proposed by Gov. Bob McDonnell, who wants to reinstate some of the funds the commonwealth formerly sent localities, but which the General Assembly cut to balance the state’s budget.

Judge said those funds could mean an extra $50,000 for Clarke.

But he added that several federal programs that benefited the county’s Sheriff’s Office and Commonwealth Attorney’s Office in the past are coming to an end.

What may have an even bigger effect is the threatened “sequestration” of federal funds if Congress can’t come to an agreement about budget cuts.

While the automatic cuts built into sequestration legislation won’t have a big impact on Clarke directly, Judge said it could have a huge effect on the state.

And, if Virginia loses federal funding, it will most certainly turn around and cut funds to the localities.

“That’s the big question,” Judge said.

— Contact Val Van Meter at vvanmeter@winchesterstar.com