Council discusses citizen survey, weighs budget changes

rarriaza@vagazette.com

City Council heard presentations regarding local research efforts and discussed ways to offset expenditures in the proposed budget for the fiscal year of 2019 during Monday’s work session.

Council and the City Manager’s Office are taking steps to outline the city’s Biennial Goals, Initiatives and Outcomes plan, which consists of a list of milestones council would like to see the city accomplish over the next two years. Before the council can begin considering long-term goals for the city, however, council members need to understand how citizens feel about the current direction of the city. It aims to do just that with the National Citizen Survey.

About 1,600 Williamsburg residents can expect to find a postcard in the mail sometime late this week or early next week informing them that they have been randomly selected to participate in the questionnaire.

The National Citizen Survey, which is sent out to cities across the country by the National Research Center, gives residents a chance to provide input on issues including the quality of life in Williamsburg, the overall quality of city services and how well the City of Williamsburg is following through on its expressed vision statement. City government has been using the survey since 2008 and its implementation costs the city $14,985.

Williamsburg residents identified the local economy and safety as their main areas of concern in the last survey, which was carried out in 2016.

“The National Citizen Survey provides the opportunity for the city to determine priorities based on bench-marked citizen input,” said Andrew Trivette, assistant city manager. “Using this data, the city can identify areas of service that need improvement or new services to initiate.”

The city’s data collection period will end June 22. Findings from the survey will be finalized and released by the city manager’s office during the week of Aug. 3.

According to Trivette, about 20 percent of residents are expected to fill out and return their surveys.

“It’s a little higher than the national average, and it is a statistically significant response,” said City Manager Marvin Collins.

As council shifts its focus to the upcoming year’s operating budget, Mayor Paul Freiling brought up continuing concerns from city residents regarding the proposed 3-cent real estate tax increase. Freiling said the revenue generated by the increase will go toward school funding and new city staff hires, all of which he feels are indispensable.

Freiling explained the only expenditure he is willing to reconsider in the upcoming budget is a proposed increase in compensation for city staff. The proposed increase would provide a 2 percent pay raise for city employees and an additional $500 increase for permanent employees with salaries below $50,000 per year.

According to the proposed budget, “the additional increase provides equity for employees most impacted by the increase in insurance A-7 premiums.”

“I’m not questioning the value of city staff, what I’m questioning is our responsibility to be good stewards of the money that is entrusted to us by the residents of this community and how it is spent, and balancing that with the needs of maintaining and motivating all the staff who does excellent work for the residents of this community,” Freiling said.

He suggested a 1 percent pay increase, with the possibility of implementing another 1 percent increase later in the year after reviewing finances.

Councilman Douglas Pons said he feels the pay increase for staff is a necessary expenditure in the budget, and that the city is at a point where it needs to grow its revenue.

“I don’t think we can cut employee compensation because so much of what makes our community strong and vibrant is because we have a workforce that is motivated to do a good job and perform their duties, so by eliminating that compensation, the morale goes down and quality of life in the city starts to decrease,” Pons said.

City Council will meet again later this week and will have an opportunity to repeal Tourism Development Fund tax increases, as well as consider the adoption of a budget for fiscal year 2019.

Next meeting

When: 2 p.m. Thursday

Where: City Council Chambers, Stryker Center, 412 N. Boundary St.

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

Copyright © 2019, The Virginia Gazette
36°