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Fredericksburg City Council wants look at cut list

City Manager Bev Cameron was tasked Tuesday with producing a list of $2 million in cuts to next year’s budget to show Fredericksburg’s City Council what it could afford if the real estate tax rate remained unchanged.

That list also would incorporate several proposals put forward by council members after Cameron presented his budget proposal last month.

During a budget work session, Councilman Fred Howe asked Cameron to compile recommended cuts to achieve a balanced budget without an increase in the real estate tax rate. Howe is the councilman who proposed increasing the city real estate tax rate by 7 cents to cover the cost of paying for the city’s new courthouse.

The city owes $2.1 million annually for 25 years to cover the $35 million debt for the new courthouse that is to open for operation next year.

The 7 cents would also cover the $300,000 it would cost for operations and maintenance for the next budget.

Cameron’s original budget proposal called for raising the real estate tax rate by 3 cents, from 74 cents per $100 of assessed value to 77 cents. That increase would raise the real estate tax bill by $76.86 for the owner of the median-priced home of $256,200 in the city.

Each 1-cent increase in the real estate tax generates $345,000.

The proposals from the council members and staff would cost roughly $2 million, Cameron said.

Councilwoman Bea Paolucci proposed changing the rates charged under the city’s Business and Professional Occupancy License Tax to support local businesses. Details are still being discussed as to how that would work and the loss in revenue that move would mean for the city.

Howe proposed creating a permanent sidewalks, safety and lighting fund to address those issues throughout the city. His initial proposal suggested funding it for about $345,000.

Councilman Matt Kelly proposed not hiring the equivalent of 3.5 new sheriff’s deputies that Cameron recommended because the state is not providing any funding for the positions.

He also opposed adding a purchasing manager position, saying he would prefer to see the city fill positions that have gone unfilled, such as an assistant fire marshal and police staff.

Kelly also said he didn’t support increasing the advertising budget for the Economic Development and Tourism Department by $20,000 until he had a clearer idea of whether funds were being used effectively.

“We need to understand how to get the best bang for our buck. I’m not sure we’re here yet,” Kelly said.

Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said $20,000 isn’t a big increase given the cost of national ads.

Councilman George Solley asked for $15,000 to move ahead with the city’s goal of adding 600 trees per year.

Greenlaw, Solley and Councilwoman Kerry Devine objected to Howe’s request to have Cameron look for the $2 million in cuts.

Devine objected to Howe’s proposal to add an expense to the list, referring to the sidewalks, safety and lighting issue.

She noted that the council spent last fall identifying its priorities and that Howe’s proposal did not make the list, so she had a problem with forcing it into the budget.

Greenlaw noted that the practice has been for councilors who want to add an item to provide a way to afford it.

Howe suggested that his idea to raise the real estate tax by 1 cent would cover it. However, he said he wasn’t insisting the proposal be funded at that amount.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972

pgould@freelancestar.com

NEXT STEPS

Here are the next steps in crafting Fredericksburg ’s fiscal 2014 budget:

  • Tuesday, 5:30 p.m., budget work session; 7:30 p.m., budget public hearing.
  • April 23, 5:30 p.m., budget work session; 7:30 p.m., preliminary approval of budget.
  • May 14, 7:30 p.m., approval of budget.

Work sessions are held in the second floor conference room of City Hall, 715 Princess Anne St. Regular meetings are held in Council Chambers.

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