Proposed Culpeper town budget includes real estate tax reduction

The Culpeper Town Council unveiled its draft FY16 budget that includes a reduction in the real estate tax rate. Although the draft budget contained no increase for the enterprise funds â?? water, wastewater or electric â?? a last minute change proposes that town council consider a three percent increase in electric and two percent for wastewater rates.

Town Manager Chris Hively offered two general fund options for the town council to consider. One option contained a new police officerâ??s position, costing $56,313. The other option didnâ??t.
â??There is no tax increase,â? said Hively.

Since the Boundary Line Adjustment when the town added the commercial and residential areas of the county along Brandy Road, the police department has been authorized 42 sworn officers and eight civilian employees.

â??We need to meet the needs of public safety in our community,â? said Police Chief Chris Jenkins after the meeting about the request for the additional officer.

While preparing the budget, Hively directed department heads to look at ways to cut costs and evaluate â??core servicesâ? prior to developing their funding recommendations. After receiving the departmentâ??s budget requests, Hively cut $530,000.

Consensus among councilmen

Some council members seemed pleased with the proposed budget. Two councilmen, who often have differing views on matters, appeared to be in agreement with the draft budget. Councilman Pranas Rimeikis said he would vote to approve it that day.

â??I am really happy with the work here,â? said Rimeikis.

Councilman David Lochridge, whose opinion oftentimes differs with that of Rimeikis said the proposed budget, which includes a three percent pay raise for employees, increased only about five percent. Lochridge noted that the last two years the budget rose about nine percent each year.

â??We really cut back to an appropriate increase,â? said Lochridge. â??I think itâ??s great.â?

Councilman Jon Russell, who often questions government spending practices, commended the various departments for cutting overtime projections in the proposed budget.

â??That has been accomplished,â? said Russell.

The draft budget would reduce the real estate tax rate from 13 cents to 11 cents of $100 of assessed value. That would help equalize the tax rate as county assessments on real estate increased 16.6 percent, said Hively.

However, proposed tax rates and enterprise fund fees may change as the town council committees go through the proposed $15.8 million budget with a fine tooth comb.

Hivelyâ??s budget projects revenue increases of $626,261, with $400,000 coming from the meals tax, $50,000 from sales and use tax and $40,000 in hotel tax. The town manager also projects
an increase in VDOT maintenance payments and utility service cost allocation. However, the town projects a decrease of $100,000 from personal property taxes.

The $505,000 general fund capital improvement plan (CIP) would spend $65,000 for a mobile canopied stage to be used as special events. The stage would take less time to set up and disassemble than the current stage. A computer server, garbage truck, two police cars, repaving the asphalt trail at Yowell Meadow Park and a $10,000 match for a survey of historical properties are also included in the CIP.

While not calling for any increases in his Mar. 19 memo to town council, Hively told the eight council members present â?? Councilman Bobby Ryan was absent â?? that he would ask for an increase in rates for electric and wastewater.

In an email, Hively said a customer using 5,500 gallons of water per month would see the wastewater bill increase by 80 cents per month. An electric customer using 1,000 KWh of electricity would increase about $2 a month.

Light and Power Director Mike Stover said even with the proposed increase, electric rates should drop about $1.10 a month, as the fuel charge levied by Dominion Virginia Power is expected to decrease. The fuel charge is passed through to customers.

Pay raise for employees

The three percent employee pay raise proposal adds about $239,000 to the budget.

Last November, Lochridge requested the staff to look at providing core services and pay raises for employees while preparing the budget. He also noted the council needed to establish a policy about funding outside agencies, such the Culpeper Free Clinic, S.A.F.E., Options and the Culpeper Literacy Council. Last year, the council authorized spending $103,145 for outside agencies, which included more than $62,000 as the townâ??s final payment for the planned expansion of the Senior Citizen Center. This year, outside agencies requested $38,000, which was not included in the draft budget. Hively said at the meeting that the council could determine how to proceed.

â??Weâ??ll probably end up doing what we did last year,â? said Vice Mayor Billy Yowell.

While talk about funding outside agencies becomes an annual issue, with some councilmen saying it is good for the community and others opposed, saying taxpayerâ??s money shouldnâ??t be used to donate to charity, health insurance for council members rarely gets mentioned.

The townâ??s proposed budget allocates $39,017 for health insurance for four members. Last year, the town spent $46,111 for health insurance on council members. Citing privacy issues, the town declines to name which four members receive health insurance. As it does for all employees who have town-provided health insurance, the town pays $6,213 toward individual coverage and $11,481 for family coverage, with the employee paying any additional premiums, according to Human Resources Director Mary Brunner. The proposed budgeted amount for council members averages $9,754.25. Council members who do not opt to receive town insurance do not receive extra financial benefits.

The mayor receives an annual salary of $14,400, the vice mayor $12,000 and council members $10,800, according to town officials.
The various town council committees and full council will consider the proposed budget from now through mid May. Town officials hope to hold a public hearing on the proposed budget June 2, with final adoption at its regular meeting June 9.

Wally Bunker is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at wallybunker@outlook.com