By Linda Farneth
The School System is the largest employer in Colonial Beach and touches so many lives, so it is no surprise that expenses and funding sources for the schools are very important topics to parents, teachers and staff.
One expense that gets little attention is that of at-risk children. At-risk children are those that need specialized attention and training to help them succeed in school. Children with learning disabilities or with behavioral problems can be placed in this category. Autism or behavioral problems are just two example of what may qualify a child as at-risk.
County Administrator, Norm Risavi explained that there are 8 children from Colonial Beach, which makes up 33% of the total kids in the entire county that are considered as at-risk children who need specialized care.
Risavi said, “Once these students are sent to us we can't say, no we can't fund this.” Several of these students are sent to separate day-schools in Fredericksburg and some in Richmond. Some are even sent out of state."
The expense for this can be between $50.000.00 to $150,000.00 dollars for each child.
Sometimes they can't be handled within the school division. “It is mandated that the county must fund the responsibility of taking care of these children.” Risavi said.
Colonial Beach Town Mayor Eddie Blunt asked if these 8 children are within the town limits or in the 22443 zip code.
Risavi said these are students just within the corporate limits.
The State has been cutting their funding for these projects so counties have had to raise their local share funding for many mandated programs including the services for at-risk children. Risavi said, “State share keeps going down and county must fill in the gap.”
How County Taxes Funding The School Districts Are Collected
Prior to 2000 Westmoreland billed all county residents equally for Real Estate and other taxes to fund the school system. The County then calculated the amount that was being drawn from residents within the town of Colonial Beach and paid it back to the Town to be put in their budget to fund the schools in town.
It was discovered that the formula being used to calculate the “real estate tax school share” was not correct and both entities began legal action to allow the town to collect the school tax on behalf of the county, eliminating the need to move money around.
In 2000 the county stopped collecting the school portion of taxes from residents and Colonial Beach took over billing for these taxes. However the amount being collected is not adequate to run the school system in Colonial Beach so the County puts in an additional share every year towards school funding.
School funding is further supplemented by the county through non-county-levied funds.
Special tax districts are formed when a small area of homes or businesses need to collect additional tax to fund specialized services. For example a small neighborhood in need of better storm drainage can come together and form a special sanitary tax district to raise money towards installation of curbs, gutters and drainage ditches, or a special sanitary tax district could be formed to fund installation of community water supplies where many homes have difficulty drilling wells to supply drinking water or even raise money to pave roads in a particular neighborhood.
Counties get funding to provide residential services or fund capital improvements from many sources other than local taxes. If a county receives these funds and uses them for similar purposes on a county wide level, the county must ensure that a fair portion of those funds are distributed to the “special sanitary tax districts” that match that purpose. This ensures the special districts have full control over their fair share of these funds without county interference in spending.
Because Colonial Beach has their own school system separate from the County it is very similar to a special tax district. So the county must identify these sources of funding and make sure that Colonial Beach Receives their fair share of these other funding sources used for school funding.
Different sources of money are calculated in different ways
Money is provided to the school system by the Virginia State Department of Education. This money is based on a formula that uses the Average Daily Membership (ADM) of each child attending the school in that locality.
However other funding such as state sales taxes for example, fund the local schools and is distributed to the locality based on how many school age children reside in that locality's boundaries.
If a child attends Colonial Beach Schools but is living in a location outside the town limits, he is counted as a student in the ADM calculations, however he will not be included in the calculations for the portion of sales tax money that is designated to fund the school system.
In conclusion budgeting money for Westmoreland County while trying to ensure the Town of Colonial Beach get's their fair share is no easy task. Likewise finding extra money to fund new projects and services is also challenging for the Supervisors because most of the budget is already spoken for before the new budget cycle begins.
Risavi said 80% of the budget for the county is predetermined by mandated costs, meaning the state has already determined what a county will fund by law and what taxes will be used to fund those mandates.
Constitutional offices are those that are required to be in place under the Constitution such a treasurer, commissioner of revenue, commonwealth attorney's office, sheriff's office, circuit court and voter registration.
The state has dramatically cut funding to constitutional offices so the county has had to increase their funding to keep these offices running.
The county share for constitutional offices has gone from 1.1 million in fiscal year 2004-2005 to just over 3 million in 2016-2017 fiscal year.
Westmoreland County Supervisor Larry Roberson said in closing, “When you're dealing with this kind of money and taxes on both sides it is ridiculous for the town and county not to work together to try to get more revenue for both. Because 99% of what is good for colonial Beach is also good for the County and vise-verse because we get a share in that money. So we need to work together very closely