Concerns over the economic fallout from the sweeping effects of the coronavirus pandemic dominated a Bedford County Board of Supervisors work session March 16 on the county’s proposed 2020-21 budget.
Chairman John Sharp said he fears the fiscal challenges for the county government and its residents could potentially be worse than the Great Recession of nearly 12 years ago.
“It’s similar to 2008, but I think it’s worse,” Sharp said in gauging the effects on many businesses, later adding: “I do think this is probably going to be a worse situation because it’s affecting so many industries.”
County officials said they will plan accordingly, brace for the budgetary impact and not rely on figures as recent as a few weeks ago that could be subject to change.
“This isn’t going away in a couple of weeks,” Sharp said.
“Plan for the worst case scenario,” Supervisor Tommy Scott said to County Administrator Robert Hiss. “Expect the worst and go from there.”
Supervisor Bob Davis asked what the county could do other than reviewing budget cuts to help residents who are hurting. He said many county children don’t have internet access at home in case of long-term school closures.
Bedford County Public Schools Superintendent Doug Schuch said the Virginia Department of Education has given guidance for local divisions to do all they can to help students learn while they are away and not give graded assignments during the closures. Educators are doing all they can to help contain the virus by providing meals and learning opportunities while families avoid gatherings and stay at home, Schuch said.
“We don’t know if we’ll be back in school March 30 or if it will be next fall or something in between,” Schuch said.
He said the county doesn’t have blanket broadband coverage for all students, and the division is doing its part to keep residents calm and encouraged during the crisis.
“It is unchartered territory for us as a community and really as a nation, I think,” Schuch said.
Hiss presented supervisors fiscal year 2021 projections that estimate general fund revenues at $109.4 million, a $3.8 million increase. Expenditures are projected at $112.7 million, he said, pointing out those numbers will come down to balance in upcoming weeks.
The county is recommending level funding contributions to just more than a dozen local nonprofits at $349,750, about $66,000 short of those organizations’ combined request. Sharp said he appreciates their roles but the board is not in a position to go beyond level funding.