Among the new governor’s suggestions for making up Virginia’s $2.2 billion shortfall is a $730 million reduction in funding to K-12 education. Those recommendations include cutting $130 million from state salary for department heads and sports coaches, and saving $92 million by eliminating Mentor Teacher programs and school breakfast programs that provide free lunches to low-income students, two programs that are widely relied upon locally. Carroll County was already expecting a $2.3 million shortfall in state funding for the local school budget before McDonnell announced he planned to unfreeze the Local Composite Index, resulting in the loss of nearly $250,000 more of state funding for the Carroll County School System.
McDonnell’s proposed cuts would have other enormous impacts on Carroll, including freezing enrollment in health insurance programs for low-income children and pregnant women, and requiring state workers to take as many as 10 unpaid furlough days. Cuts to state-funded programs such as Social Services and Constitutional Offices may put switch the financial burden from the state to localities as well, while local programs such as Mount Rogers could be also be affected drastically.
“Everything is being pushed back on us. It continues to impact us since the state is pushing all of the expenses to the localities,” Carroll County Administrator Gary Larrowe said Thursday, one day after McDonnell announced his proposed cuts. “Basically what is taking place is the counties are having to balance the state’s budget.”
Granted, McDonnell’s recommendations are nothing more than that. The Virginia House of Delegates and State Senate would have to agree before passing them into law. Larrowe said there will undoubtedly be some wrangling that takes place until that point. Regardless, the state’s financial woes do not look good for counties such as Carroll.
“We will not know the full impact until some point in the future, but these are real cuts in state budgets and the expectations are that localities will pick up these cuts,” Larrowe said. “We cannot do that.”
The burden of salary for constitutional officers and the Comprehensive Services Act, which Larrowe said is mandated through Social Services, could be shifted from the state to counties. He said a fellow county administrator told him the state will be capping Comprehensive Services Act dollars. Previously the state paid a percentage of those funds, while localities also paid a portion.
“It looks like they are going to cap it from the state and it will be all of ours. I guess the whole concept is that there are things that have always been held sacred and that are mandated that are now being subject to severe astronomical budget cuts at the state level and that they are expecting and forcing those cuts down on localities,” Larrowe said. “The expectation is that the counties would balance the state budget and there is no way we can do that. They are just pushing off the things that have been created over time, it looks like to me, and putting that on the burden of the localities, and with no tools to work with. We can’t put that burden on property owners.”
Since McDonnell’s proposals are just suggestions, Larrowe said he couldn’t put a dollar amount on the impact state reductions will have on Carroll County. He does expect that the total will be significant.
“And if there is a stronger word than significant, that is what it is. I think the key is to preserve core services for citizens. We have to be looking at the core services that we have to have for local citizens and we are just not sure where all that will end up (coming from),” Larrowe said. “We are still in the investigating and watching mode. Several of us were in Richmond last week and everyone was working very hard, but it is going to be an exceptionally difficult task.”