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City Council OKs 5-cent tax increase

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The Fredericksburg City Council on Tuesday adopted the fiscal 2015 budget, which includes a real estate tax increase and $350,000 more for city schools.

The real estate levy was increased by 5 cents, making the rate 79 cents per $100 of assessed value. Each penny increase in the tax rate generates $360,000.

For the owner of the median-priced home of $241,000 that will mean a tax bill increase of $120.50 per year for a total of $1,903.90.

The City Council gave final approval to the school division allocation, which totals nearly $26.4 million in local funds. The state is the second biggest contributor to the division’s $39.9 million operating budget. It is expected to provide nearly $13 million in the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

The real estate tax increase for fiscal 2015 is attributed primarily to eight items the council chose to add to City Manager Bev Cameron’s budget proposal.

The additions were the result of weeks of budget deliberations among the council members.

The most expensive item added was paving of neighborhood streets at a cost of $960,000. However, only $360,000 of the cost will be funded through the tax increase, accounting for 1 cent of that increase.

The remaining $600,000 will be funded as follows: $300,000 from the capital fund balance, $150,000 from the general fund balance and $150,000 from the gas tax fund.

City employees are getting a 2 percent cost-of-living raise at a cost of $415,000. That is in addition to a 1 percent raise Cameron figured into the budget to offset the 1 percent employees must contribute to the Virginia Retirement System.

School division employees are getting variable raises in a salary scale adjustment aimed at making city employee pay more competitive with surrounding jurisdictions. Superintendent David Melton plans to use nearly $1.5 million of school funds for that.

The City Council is also adding seven new positions to the payroll, all in public safety.

Sheriff Paul Higgs is getting four additional deputies to help staff the new courthouse, slated to open on Aug. 1. He had requested 5 new positions in part because he expects Circuit Judge Gordon F. Willis to operate a second circuit courtroom as soon as the facility opens.

The cost of four deputies is $244,560.

Circuit Clerk Jeff Small had asked for two additional clerks but said he wouldn’t need them if the second courtroom doesn’t open. The council did not fund the two positions but set aside $108,000 in the next budget for those positions, in case they are needed.

The budget includes a total contingency amount of $204,745, which also would cover the 1 additional deputies if they are needed, said city Budget Manager Amanda Lickey. If that money is not needed, it would carry over into the fiscal 2016 budget.

The city will pay just over $2.1 million for the debt service payment on the courthouse in the coming year.

The council also added three Advanced Life Support medics so there would be paid personnel on duty on weekends from 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Currently, the city only has enough career personnel to cover the city on weekdays during those hours. The remaining time, volunteers provide the service. The cost of three additional medics is $194,500.

The council also allocated $350,000 more for fleet vehicle replacement. Of that amount, $150,000 is coming from general fund balance and the remainder from the tax hike. Those funds enable the city to replace vehicles for public facilities and fire administration, dump trucks, equipment for traffic and park management, and a spreader for snow removal, Lickey said.

The budget also increases Arts Commission funding by $20,000 and Empowerhouse funding by $5,000, and gives $2,000 for Tri City County Soil and Water.

The general fund budget for the coming year totals $86.5 million, an increase of 6.27 percent from the current year.

The spending plan includes $8 million from the city’s Public Facilities Capital Fund to cover the cost of building a parking facility in Celebrate Virginia South. The surface parking lot would serve a privately funded baseball stadium expected to be built by a group including the owners of the minor league Hagerstown Suns.

The personal property tax rate will remain unchanged. However, city taxpayers will see increases in fees for water, sewer, trash and ambulance transport after July 1.

Water rates will increase roughly 9.5 percent and sewer rates by 7.8 percent to help cover the costs of operations and system upgrades.

Most homeowners will see an increase in $3.20 per month for their trash service to offset the increase in fees for disposing of solid waste at the Rappahannock Regional Landfill.

Ambulance transport fees will increase between $100 and $150 per trip. However, most insurance covers the cost.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972

pgould@freelancestar.com

WHAT A NICKEL BUYS

Each penny on Fredericksburg’s real estate tax rate raises $360,000. The real estate tax rate is being raised from 74 cents per $100 of assessed value to 79 cents. Here’s a list of items accounting for the nickel rate increase.

$415,000

  • 2 percent employee cost-of-living adjustment

$360,000

  • Paving of neighborhood streets

$244,560

  • 4 sheriff’s deputies for courthouse

$200,000

  • Additional vehicle replacement

$194,500

  • 3 Advanced Life Support medics

$204,745

  • Contingency

$1.62 million

  • Total

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