James City County Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael Hipple held the first of five planned budget town hall forums Thursday evening, outlining the $193 million spending proposal from County Administrator Bryan Hill.
Discussion largely dwelled on the impending vote on finances for a 4th Middle School at the James Blair site and building additions needed at Lafayette High School.
Hill gave an overview of the budget proposal via a PowerPoint presentation at the beginning of the meeting at Lois Hornsby Middle School, in the Powhatan section of the county.
Police Chief Brad Rinehimer was on hand, along with Fire Department Chief Ryan Ashe, Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green and James City Service Authority Director Doug Powell.
Supervisors Sue Sadler and Ruth Larson were also present at the forum.
Hipple’s forum was a stark visual contrast to the budget process last year when attendance swelled at forums hosted by supervisors. On Thursday evening, outside of county officials, less than 20 people showed up to the auditorium at Hornsby Middle School.
“We have a lot less people here,” Hipple remarked. Last year the county hiked the real estate tax for the first time in two decades.
Parents, teachers and students at Lafayette High School have advocated for an additional gym to be put in at the school. The project was moved up in the Capital Improvement Program passed by the Planning Commission last month, but seems unlikely to get funding from the Board of Supervisors this fiscal year.
“I know they’re building a state of the art middle school, why not take 2 million dollars off that figure and build a gym at Lafayette,” said Bobby Woollum, who is a basketball coach at Lafayette High.
Woollum and others who attended the forum said the lack of sports facilities at the high school posed a safety issue for students who rely on car rides, often after dark to get to and from practice and athletic events.
Hill said once the county finished its strategic plan process this year it would be better equipped to address longer term capital needs. “This is the cards I’ve been dealt with, I need some time to get it right, give me two years, obviously I’ll figure out something,” Hill said.
Wayne Vick, a parent of a Lafayette student, said he was frustrated with some of the priorities and said he felt there was a larger disconnect between spending plans outlined by the school division and what the parents felt were important.
“ I think you’ve done a great job of managing what you have control over,” Vick told Hill and Hipple. “It’s obvious from what you put up today, but over half of your budget you don’t have accountability over,” Vick said. “What steps can we take to get control over that? Those decisions are impacting our county in a large way.”