City Council retreat begins budget process for upcoming fiscal year

Staff writer

City Council, along with the heads of various city departments, took a first look at a draft of the operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year at its annual budget retreat Saturday morning.

City Manager Andrew Trivette and Finance Director Barbara Dameron walked the municipal leaders through their current draft of the city’s operating budget for fiscal year 2020. The draft budget included an expected general fund of $37.2 million, along with increased tourism development and capital improvement spending.

The retreat marked an important, early step in the budget development process. Once approved by City Council in May, the budget will take effect July 1 and will remain in place until June 30, 2020.

Budget highlights

The coming year’s city budget will total $70.4 million spread across six separate funds, Trivette said. The money will come from a combination of taxes and other revenue sources.

About $22 million will be collected from a range of taxes including meals, lodging and sales taxes; $15 million will come from real estate taxes; $9 million will come in the form of intergovernmental payments from agencies including the Virginia Department of Transportation; and other payments including fine, permit and license fees will raise an additional $22 million.

Along with the $37.2 million general fund -- which covers costs across all city departments -- other areas of the budget could include $5.3 million in tourism development spending and $16.9 million in capital improvement funds.

The projected general fund would be a $3 million increase over the current year. Included in that spending, Trivette said, would be $20 million in departmental spending and $10.1 million in school funding. The remaining $7.1 million would be split between joint participation programs with neighboring localities, a $2.2 million transfer to the city’s tourism fund and funding for Williamsburg Regional Library, outside agencies and human services costs.

The increased payment to schools would cover a planned 4 percent pay increase for school employees, he said. The city contributed $9.8 million for W-JCC operating costs in fiscal year 2019, according to the budget.

“Education represents a pretty big increase this year, and the bulk of that has to do with personnel changes at the school level,” Trivette said.

Capital improvement, tourism spending

New capital improvement projects expected to take shape in the upcoming fiscal year include $7 million in funding for a new or renovated fire station, $3.3 for a renovated police station, $1.5 million in road repaving projects and $300,000 in costs to demolish the former DMV building on Capitol Landing Road. The parcel is owned by the city and has been considered as the possible site of a second fire station.

The $5.3 million forecasted for tourism spending would be raised through the $2 million collected as the city’s share of SB 942 funds, along with a $2.2 million transfer from the general fund and $1.1 million collected from the $2 lodging tax.

About $1.7 million would be set aside to fund new tourism drivers in the city through the new Tourism Development Grant Fund, Trivette said. The recently established Tourism Development Fund Review Committee will review funding requests and pass approved projects on to City Council for final approval.

Grants for major players in the city’s tourism economy, including Colonial Williamsburg and the Virginia Arts Festival, would also come out of the city’s tourism fund. Assuming funding requests from outside agencies in the city stay level with those granted in the current fiscal year, the city would dole out $1.3 million in funding for Colonial Williamsburg, $80,000 to the Virginia Arts Festival, $15,000 to the Kingsmill Golf Championship and $10,000 to the Williamsburg Hotel/Motel Association.

“Having the CW funds going through the tourism fund may allow us the opportunity to ask Colonial Williamsburg to make that request in the form of a grant so that the grant review committee can take a look at that,” Vice-Mayor Doug Pons said. “We need to have that conversation instead of just writing that blank check and hoping for the best.”

Police and fire staffing needs

The city’s police and fire departments each requested funds for four additional police officers and firefighters. In total, the eight new hires would cost the city $600,000.

Fire Chief Pat Dent said the four new hires would take on firefighter and medic roles, and would allow existing fire station staff more flexibility during their shifts.

“Regardless of a decision on a second station or one station, I’ve said all along that we need the four positions,” Dent said. “Any positions we get would make an immediate impact.”

Police Chief Sean Dunn said the new hires would be added to the city’s patrol staff and would counteract high-staffing turnover that he’s seen in the department in recent years, due in part to a heavy workload and a lack of benefits, including a program that allows officers to take their vehicles home with them.

“Guys are coming into work, working twice as hard but don’t have (as many) benefits, and it encourages them to look at some other options where they can have a lighter workload,” Dunn said. “Because of that, we’re constantly in training mode.”

Going forward, the city manager’s office is expected to release a proposed fiscal year 2020 budget on March 19 after receiving input from Planning Commission and the EDA. City Council will then review the proposed budget through public hearings in April and is expected to adopt the FY 20 budget on May 19.

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

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