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City Council considers raising real estate tax

MORE: Read more news from Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg’s city manager proposed a budget with no increase in the real estate tax, but if the City Council wants to fund a wish list with raises for staff, it could end up advertising a double-digit rate increase.

The City Council held its first work session Tuesday night on the fiscal 2015 budget. Though council members did not reach consensus on the real estate tax rate they will advertise, one member noted that it could take a 15-cent increase per $100 of assessed value to afford everything they discussed.

Two key items were employee pay and the cost of the new courthouse—which will be ready for operation in July.

Councilman Fred Howe said he wanted city employees to receive whatever pay increase the school division’s employees receive for the next budget year, which begins July 1.

Fredericksburg School Superintendent David Melton is proposing division employees receive variable raises under a salary scale adjustment aimed at making city teachers’ pay competitive with surrounding divisions. The total cost of those pay raises is nearly $1.5 million.

Four other council members also voiced support for giving city employees more pay. Councilwoman Kerry Devine favored a bonus, Bea Paolucci supported a bonus or cost-of-living increase, and Councilman Brad Ellis and Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw supported the COLA.

City Manager Bev Cameron’s budget proposal includes a 1 percent raise for staff but that is offset by a required 1 percent contribution to the Virginia Retirement System.

An additional 2 percent COLA or bonus would cost $415,000 in the coming year. A bonus would be a one-time payment.

Each penny increase in the real estate tax rate generates $360,000.

The current tax rate is 74 cents per $100 of assessed value. The median value of a house in the city is $241,000, making the tax on that property $1,783.40. Each penny increase in the tax rate for that homeowner would mean $24.10.

Howe recommended the city increase the real estate rate by 9 cents to cover the cost of the new courthouse—both the debt to pay for construction and operations expenses. That cost is roughly $3 million.

Ellis is recommending an increase of 4 or 5 cents per $100 of assessed value of real estate.

Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw noted that Cameron presented a “bare-bones budget” and said she’s hearing support within the community for a real estate tax increase.

“I’m not opposed nor are most of the citizens I talk to opposed to a modest increase in the real estate tax rate to meet core services,” Greenlaw said.

She and Devine favored spending additional tax dollars to hire more emergency medical technicians.

Three EMTs would cost $219,500.

The council will decide on April 8 the real estate tax rate to advertise. Once a rate is advertised, it can be lowered but not raised without another advertisement.

Last year, the city advertised a 9-cent increase in the real estate tax rate but approved a budget with no increase.

Cameron’s budget 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.

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.

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.

A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for April 15, with a public hearing on the tax rate on April 22. The council is scheduled for at least three more budget work sessions over the next month.

In other action Tuesday night, the council gave final approval to two modifications to the new Unified Development Ordinance in the commercial downtown zoning area of the city. Howe and Councilman Matt Kelly voted against both changes.

The first change would increase from 12 to 18 the number of multifamily units per acre, by right, and make a technical change to encourage mixed-use development.

The second change would keep the residential portion of mixed-use developments to 24 units per acre, but no longer require all of the ground floor to be for commercial use.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972

pgould@freelancestar.com

PROGRAM DELAYED

The start date for Fredericksburg’s pilot curbside trash and recycling program program has been delayed until May 5, City Manager Bev Cameron said in a report to the City Council.

The program is to be launched in the College Heights and Darbytown neighborhoods

and was delayed by a month because of weather and challenges in procuring the wheeled carts needed for the project, Cameron said.

The pilot program will collect trash and recycling once per week instead of twice and require customers to bring the wheeled carts to the curb.

At the end of six months, city officials will determine if the pilot period needs to be extended to provide more information to evaluate it and to decide whether to expand

it to more areas of the city.

—Pamela Gould

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