City Council discusses survey results, approves fire engine purchase and tax relief for veterans

At Thursday’s monthly City Council meeting, the body began its biennial goal-setting initiative with the presentation of results from a citizen survey.

When compared with results from the survey’s last implementation in 2016, a higher percentage of respondents use public transportation, and either volunteered or campaigned for a cause or political candidate. Respondents also gave high marks for the overall quality of life and sense of safety in the city.

The biennial National Citizen Survey has been administered in the city by the National Research Center since 2008, and asks a randomly-selected pool of Williamsburg residents to rank their level of satisfaction as it relates to community livability, city characteristics, local governance and citizen participation.

Morgan Adams, research associate with the National Research Center and project manager for the Williamsburg survey, said it was sent to 1,600 city households by mail this past May and the agency received 379 responses.

Areas for improvement were mainly centered around the quality of city streets and public works services. According to Adams’ presentation, 60 percent of respondents were satisfied with the quality of city street cleaning and street lighting, while only 50 percent of survey respondents were satisfied with street repairs. 40 percent were satisfied with snow removal in the city, following a steady biennial decline and making it the only city service with a lower satisfaction level than the national average.

“Williamsburg continues to be a great place to live and residents feel safe, the ease of travel is generally positive and city streets might merit focus,” Adams said. “The natural environment is an asset and residents would like to protect this aspect, the economy is a priority and residents are increasingly engaged.”

The survey information will inform council’s upcoming 2018 Goals, Initiatives and Outcomes discussions, where the body will outline milestones that it would like to see the city accomplish over the next two years.

“There’s a lot of good things to draw from this, and this provides a benchmark of standards for our own planning process,” said councilman Benny Zhang.

City Council will continue its biennial goal-setting process with two public workshops in September.

Requests, ordinances approved at the meeting

City Council unanimously approved two other items on Thursday, one request from the Williamsburg Fire Department to replace its 18-year-old fire engine with a newer model, and a new ordinance exempting disabled military veterans in the city from paying personal property taxes on their cars.

Fire Chief Pat Dent was at the meeting, and requested Council’s approval for the purchase of a 2019 Pierce Enforcer fire engine for the price of $599,817.

The new truck will replace Engine 20, a 2000 Pierce Saber. The older vehicle will be sold to another locality or traded-in at an estimated value of $25,000, according to Dent. He said an especially busy year compounded with years of wear and tear has made the purchase necessary. According to Dent, the department responded to more than 4,100 calls last year, but is on pace to reach 4,500 calls by the end of this year.

“Obviously with the age of the apparatus and the number of incidents that this piece of equipment has responded to, reliability is always an issue,” Dent said.

The engine will be purchased through a cooperative purchase contract with the Houston-Galveston Area Council of Governments, which awarded a contract to York County-based distributor Atlantic Emergency Solutions.

The body also approved an ordinance proposed by Lara Overy, the city’s commissioner of revenue. She said she recently received a call from a disabled veteran living in the city asking if he could receive personal property tax relief. After looking into the matter, Overy found that state law allows for that tax relief, but only if city ordinance is passed to offer it.

Overy proposed that the city pass ordinance allowing a single motor vehicle regularly used for personal transportation by any disabled military veteran to be exempt from personal property taxes, regardless of the veteran’s income level. In order to receive this exemption, the veteran is required to send a written statement to Overy’s office from the Department of Veterans' Services explaining that his or her disability is recognized by the military and was sustained while deployed.

Overy said that, to be eligible, a veteran must had to have “either lost, or lost the use of, one or both legs, or an arm or a hand, or who is blind or who is permanently and totally disabled as certified by the Department of Veterans Services.”

“Somebody who has put their life on the line and sacrificed their health and well-being for the rest of us, we should be doing something for them,” said Mayor Paul Freiling.

Next meeting

Where: City Council Chambers, Stryker Center, 401 N. Boundary St.

When: 4 p.m. Sept. 10

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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