This blog includes news about City Hall, city schools and other 22401 news.Pamela Gould reports on City Hall. You can reach her at 540-735-1972 or email@example.com. Robyn Sidersky reports on city schools. You can reach her at 540-374-5413 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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No tax hike in Fredericksburg city manager’s budget proposal
ONLINE EXTRA: See the overview of City Manager Bev Cameron’s budget proposal.
BY PAMELA GOULD
Fredericksburg City Manager Bev Cameron is proposing no changes to city tax rates, no new programs and no additional employees in his budget for the coming year.
The proposal for fiscal 2015 includes a 1 percent pay increase for city employees but that is offset by the 1 percent contribution employees must make to the Virginia Retirement System.
By contrast, city school employees are expected to receive variable pay raises under Superintendent David Melton’s salary scale adjustments for the 2014–15 school year, which will cost nearly $1.5 million.
Melton’s goal is to keep city school positions competitive with pay in Stafford and Spotsylvania counties.
He also plans to add 10 teaching positions—five primary, four secondary and one technology—at a cost of $565,000.
Cameron presented his budget to the City Council at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Calling the city’s employees the government’s biggest asset, Cameron asked the council to see what it could do during budget deliberations—which begin March 25—to increase employee pay.
“I hope council will work with me over the next two months to provide either a cost-of-living increase or a bonus for staff,” he said.
He noted, however, that employees are benefiting significantly from employer-paid costs for pension plans and health care premiums.
The city faces a 15 percent increase in the amount it will pay toward employee health care premiums, bringing the average annual cost to $12,000 per employee.
Cameron’s budget calls for fully funding Melton’s proposal, which is a $350,000 increase over this year’s city funding for a total of nearly $26.4 million.
That increase is nearly the equivalent of 1 cent on the city’s real estate tax rate. Cameron said every penny on the real estate tax equals $360,000.
The city’s current real estate tax rate is 74 cents per $100 of assessed value.
The median value of a house in the city is $241,000, making the real estate tax on that property $1,783.40.
Cameron noted that a significant help for the city budget comes from an increase in the state’s contribution to public schools next year.
The school division expects to receive $2.2 million more from the state for the 2014–15 school year as a result of a change to the local composite index and increased average daily enrollment in city schools.
Cameron’s proposal includes a 3.66 percent increase in the general fund, which covers most city operations. That brings the general fund to $84.4 million for the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.
That 3.66 percent spending increase equals $2.98 million and is funded by a $1.84 million increase in local revenues and $1.14 million in carryover from the current budget.
Cameron is projecting $169,155 more in real estate tax revenues, $250,000 more in meals taxes and $520,000 more in sales tax.
He’s also projecting an increase of $575,000 in personal property tax revenues as a result of population growth and an associated increase in vehicle values.
The election-year budget offers little more than the essentials, Cameron said.
The increases mostly come from higher costs in employee benefits, obligations to regional agencies, the schools and the debt service payment to the Economic Development Authority on the Riverfront Park.
The budget also includes an increase in water rates of 9.5 percent and sewer rates of 7.8 percent.
For the average customer who uses 9,000 gallons of water every two months, that translates into $2.77 more for water and $4.28 more for sewer every two months, which is the city’s billing cycle.
The budget includes a debt service transfer of $7.6 million, including a balloon payment of $750,000 for the Masonic Lodge property that is part of the Riverfront Park site. The debt service on the courthouse scheduled for completion in June is $2.14 million.
“What I’m proudest of in this budget is what we’re doing in capital improvements,” Cameron said. “We’re doing a lot for a small community.”
The budget includes allocations for 14 major projects including the Fall Hill Avenue widening that is now in the hands of the Virginia Department of Transportation, $130,000 for the Comprehensive Land Use Plan update, $650,000 to replace a 1986 model fire truck, $1 million to convert overhead utilities to underground on the 3.6-acre Riverfront Park site, and $3.8 million for improvements to the Motts Run Treatment Plant, which provides drinking water to the city and Spotsylvania County.
The projects also include wastewater system improvements in the College Heights, Normandy Village, William Street and Charles Street areas at a total cost of $5.2 million.
Cameron is also recommending $17,050 to fund part-time salaries in public safety.
That money would be divided as follows: $2,050 for the Fredericksburg Police Department to assist with accreditation; $5,000 for emergency medical services to help cover gaps in shift coverage; and $10,000 to the Sheriff’s Office for additional hours for deputies to oversee the new courthouse.
The Sheriff’s Office amount is less than Sheriff Paul Higgs had sought.
Higgs, who got 3.5 new positions this year, asked for 5.5 more positions to staff the larger courthouse.
But Cameron said, “There is no money to do that.”
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972
Below are key dates in finalizing the fiscal 2015 budget, which begins on July 1.
MARCH 25—First City Council budget work session.
APRIL 15 —Budget public hearing.
APRIL 22 —Council could take preliminary vote on budget.
MAY 13—Council could adopt its budget or at least approve the school division appropriation. The School Board, by law, must adopt its budget by May 15.