The News Virginian has offered reporting of a tough budget for Waynesboro City Council but a helpful one for the Waynesboro School Board.
It should be noted that Waynesboro schools are getting a boost because they need targeted help. The challenges include a large number of “at-risk” students, the impact of those for whom English is a second language, and the costs for providing free meals to a largely disadvantaged population.
So, yes, they are receiving more state funds meant to give needful children an equal chance for success. Good. But the overall investments, for every child’s benefit, have been diminishing and fall on city council to make right.
The schools are expecting increased revenues of $1,078,000 from the state, $89,000 from Washington and $497,000 from council. The city’s 3.3% increase may seem reasonable. But on the heels of a less than 1% ($128,000) hike last year, it isn’t all that grand. And does little to offset the cumulative losses of 50 positions over the last 10 years.
It is my belief that education investments are not just the largest for a community but always the most important. I once read, and believe, a community does not fail and then the school system fails. But that the failing of a school system leads to the failing of a community.
With this in mind, I believe Waynesboro City Schools must be better supported. It is not just the children at-risk but the very vitality of the entire community.
Waynesboro’s Emergency Operations Center (911) reflects two of the challenges facing Waynesboro: size and myopia. Its $1,201,000 annual budget computes to $54 per resident as compared to Augusta’s 911 cost of just $27 per resident for the same work.
If Waynesboro could enjoy the county’s same efficiency; it would yield $500,000 in yearly savings. And it could. The county has repeatedly made the invitation only to be rejected time and time again.
While not every service cost is as dramatically improved; it is unquestioned that larger scale yields greater efficiencies. The city has at least two different avenues to these economies.
The first uses methods employed by every industrial company for survival. Outsource operations if more cost effective, continually monitor the efficacy of each work center then close or reinvent as necessary.
Besides farming out the EOC to Augusta, contracting with the Augusta County Service Authority to operate the City’s water and sewer plants could also bring significant savings. They presently operate Staunton’s wastewater treatment plant. These highly regulated facilities require a deep reserve of support personnel for compliant and cost effective operations.
Waynesboro’s biennial reassessment should be changed to once every four years. Contracting out once in 4 years will save approximately $200,000 annually over full time in-house assessors.
Tourism and Economic Development budgets are too large. Asking the City Manager, and other top managers, to fit in time to participate in existing joint locality efforts, will likely yield similar opportunities and associated revenues as do full blown staffs.
But these changes take hard work and a willingness to battle entrenched interests. If history tells you this will not happen; I offer choice number 2: “Reversion.”
Waynesboro is too small (22,000) to cost effectively offer a full menu of government services. It is more right sized to be a town. This works for many other places such as Blacksburg (42,620) and Christiansburg (21,041).
Given that Waynesboro has only existed as an independent city since 1948, it should not have the pride of history that say Staunton has. Pragmatism should win out over whatever attachment residents have for the designation of “independent city.”
Reversion is a transfer of schools, courts, constitutional offices to Augusta from Waynesboro. The county would receive its presently imposed real property tax rate and the City could add theirs as it likes. If the city wanted to keep homeowners at the present $.90 rate, the county would receive $.63 and the city $.27.
Waynesboro’s Council would enjoy better revenue than most towns, owing to its enviable revenues from meals and lodging taxes. The consolidation of two school administrations, two court operations, and four distinct constitutional offices should represent a more efficient use of tax dollars accruing to the benefit of both localities.
This is an election year. Ask the candidates to commit to stronger schools through better management not higher taxes. The county offers help, accept it. Demand real thought not passing pleasantries. If you raise your voices now; your taxes are less likely be to raised later.