Chris Graham: A little here, a little there, and it starts to add up

Column by Chris Graham

It’s a cold, hard reality. Waynesboro, like most other communities in the Commonwealth and across the country, is facing pretty severe budget shortfalls, both in the near term and into next year.

Policy moves at the local and state level aren’t making things any easier.

We’ll start in City Hall, which is looking at a $183,000 shortfall in the current fiscal-year budget and a $2.6 million funding gap in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. With the U.S. economy beginning to heat up, posting 6 percent growth in gross domestic product in the fourth quarter of 2009, the glaring hole in the City Hall employee flow chart in the economic-development director position that has been open since August 2008 won’t get the city in a position to take advantage of growth opportunities that are already in the offing.

“The City Council is going to have to look very strategically, I believe, at diversifying our economic base. We’ve got to stop, if you will, putting all of our eggs in one basket, which is the West End revenue, because we know that we’re going to have some competition for that revenue with Staunton, Crozet and other areas that are developing,” City Councilwoman Lorie Smith said in an interview for the Feb. 18 installment of The AFP Show podcast.

It’s time “to get serious” about economic development, Smith said. It’s also time to get serious about public-school funding. The Waynesboro school system had already pared down what had been a $2 million-plus budget shortfall for 2010-2011 when word came down from on high from the McDonnell administration in Richmond that it wants to adjust a state school-funding formula in a move that could cost Waynesboro another $500,000 next year.

Waynesboro School Board Chairman Jeremy Taylor told The AFP Show on Feb. 18 what that will mean for Waynesboro.

“We’re looking to have some very difficult discussions that are definitely going to require service reductions and potentially personnel reductions. From where I sit, of course I want to hold our personnel as harmless as possible, but we’ve got to find that balance of keeping our organization operationally sound while trying to close the gap of the deficit. And that’s going to be a very tough scenario to work within,” Taylor said.

Five hundred thousand here, a million there, and suddenly, our hometown is going to be hemorrhaging some serious money.

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