The Stafford County Board of Supervisors rejected a proposal by county administrator C.M. Williams Jr. on Wednesday to use $1.5 million in reserve funds to balance the budget, and instead directed him to slash that amount from county services.
The decision, which passed despite objections from Supervisors Alvin Y. Bandy (R-George Washington) and Lindbergh A. Fritter (R-Griffis-Widewater), once again divided the board and left some wondering whether a budget would ever get passed.
"It's an exercise in futility," said Bandy, who expressed doubts that there were more places where the budget could be trimmed. "I guess certain members of the board are afraid to make a decision."
One cut will be the $312,000 upgrade of the county's maps and mapping system, but officials are still trying to figure out where else to trim services, Williams said Friday afternoon.
The budget, which will be addressed on Tuesday, has turned into a giant thorn in the side of board members. The process has been difficult from the beginning, with the policymakers haggling over different ways to account for a $6 million budget shortfall.
A proposed 6-cent tax increase, which would have made up for much of the shortfall, was whittled down to 3 cents before finally being dropped altogether. That prompted cries of election-year politicking because Supervisor Robert C. Gibbons (R-Rock Hill), who is up for reelection in November, pushed to drop the tax hike.
Those sentiments remain and still dog the discussions.
"Some board members -- and I don't want to second-guess members -- but some want to wait until this November and take a look at a five-year plan," said Supervisor Ferris M. Belman Sr. (I-At Large). "We didn't even give a two-year plan consideration. I just hope it's not a move to wait until after election."
Then a plan by Chairman Kenneth T. Mitchell (R-Aquia) to borrow $1 million from water and sewer reserves sparked another round of spats before the unpopular idea eventually was discarded. And for the last few weeks, budget talks have almost entirely stalled, with few new ideas being voiced.
In any case, board members realize that regardless of what they do at this point, the county is in a difficult spot. Even after returning the $1.5 million to the fund balance, Stafford has only $3.7 million in reserves. The county started this fiscal year with $9.8 million but was forced to spend $5.8 million to pay bills.
"I think we've got a big problem coming next year," said Supervisor David R. Beiler (I-Falmouth), who has been adamantly opposed to raising taxes. "There will be a lot of pressure to raise taxes if growth keeps coming. Basically we're wringing all the fat out this year, but we won't be able to do that next year. We've got to find a way to slow down growth in a hurry as much as we can or we'll have to raise taxes next year.
"We did belt tightening this year, but we've tightened it to the last notch."