City Council, residents weigh in on proposed budget

Staff writer

City Council weighed the finer points of the proposed budget for the next fiscal year at its April 11 meeting.

One of the main topics of discussion was an expected increase to the assessed value of real property in the city that is included in the city manager’s proposed budget. The current year’s budget, which expires June 30, raised the real estate tax rate in the city to 60 cents per $100 of assessed value.

While the proposed budget does not suggest that the city raise its real estate tax rate again, it does account for an increase in the assessed value of property in the city. The exact amount of that increase won’t be known until the conclusion of an annual assessment in December.

Until then, the city is advertising an assessed value increase not to exceed 6 percent, but figures in the proposed budget reflect revenues from a 4 percent increase assessed value increase. By the time the assessment is completed in December, City Manager Andrew Trivette said he expects the final figure to be a 5.7 percent increase.

“The overall assessed value of the community’s combined real estate property we’re projecting to increase to 5.7, but we’re budgeting a 4 percent increase in the overall value of real estate in the community,” Mayor Paul Freiling said. “We’re projecting that it’ll be somewhere around 5.7, but we’re not changing the tax rate, it’s staying the same per $100 as it has been.”

During a public hearing on the proposed budget, city resident Bill Talley said the assessed value increase could impact some city residents more than others.

“You have recently stated that the average value of a house (in the city) is $332,050, but if you look at the downtown and midtown neighborhoods, a lot of those houses are assessed at much higher rates, and with that, we’re shouldering a larger version of the proposed tax increases,” Talley said. “You say that it’s not a tax increase and that you’re keeping the rate the same, but when more comes out of your wallet every year, that’s a tax increase.”

Revenue from the increased assessments would cover major upcoming expenses such as the city’s contributions to W-JCC Schools, increases in the city’s departmental needs and increased solid waste recycling costs, Trivette said.

At Monday’s City Council work session, Trivette said the difference between the 4 percent assessed value increase in the proposed budget and the expected 5.7 percent assessed value increase would result in $220,000 in excess funds. If possible, those could cover at least a portion of the staffing requests made by the city’s police and fire departments that are going unfunded in the current proposed budget, he said.

“The top two requests were funding to provide for four positions in the police department and four positions in the fire department, and those would be our top priorities in December if there is additional funding,” Trivette said.

Also at the meeting, council members suggested the proposed budget be altered to fulfill additional funding requests from outside agencies. These include a combined additional $8,000 in funding for Olde Town Medical and Dental Center and Colonial Behavioral Health, $5,500 for the Colonial Soil and Water Conservation District, $11,000 in funding for the Commonwealth’s Attorney office and $2,400 that would cover a joint courthouse cost increase.

“As far as Olde Town Medical, I also appreciate the value that they provide to the community, and if there are additional funds that are available, I would support that,” council member Barbara Ramsey said.

Following Director of Human Services Peter Walentisch’s recent announcement that he plans to retire effective May 1, City Council also unanimously approved an amendment to the city code allowing either the director of human services or a deputy director within the Human Services Department to serve as social services director.

The board also unanimously appointed Deputy Director of Social Work Wendy Evans as the interim director of social services effective May 1.

Finally, Adria Vanhoozier was unanimously appointed to fill a vacant seat on the city’s Economic Development Authority.

Vanhoozier is vice president and administrator at Riverside Doctors’ Hospital Williamsburg; she will fill a seat on the board vacated by Jessica Hann, who resigned from the EDA board in February.

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

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