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Posted May 14, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

New Market budget hearing draws no comments

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

NEW MARKET -- Town Council could raise the meals tax in New Market in lieu of increasing the levy on real estate.

No residents or property owners spoke Monday at the public hearing on the town's proposed fiscal 2013 budget. Town Manager Evan Vass proposed a spending plan of $3.99 million for the next fiscal year which reflects a 7.3 percent increase over the current budget of $4.28 million. Vass gave council an overview of the town's spending activities over the course of the past year before presenting information on the proposed budget.

The meals tax increase by 1 percent to 5 percent, if approved, would generate an estimated $70,000 in additional revenue for the town. New Market would need to raise its real estate tax rate by 4 cents to generate the same amount of money, Vass explained. The manager noted that the town has not raised its meals tax levy since 1993 when it rose from 2 percent to 4 percent, according to Vass. The other towns in Shenandoah County already charge a 5 percent levy on meals.

"Our meals tax is heavily generated from interstate traffic," Vass said.

A $10 meal would cost an extra 10 cents under the proposed rate increase; 25 cents for a $25 meal, Vass explained.

The spending plan includes an increase in both water and sewer rates of 10 percent. Vass told council the town has sold less water and thus New Market lost revenue. The proposed increase would bring the town back to where its revenues were expected to be at this time, Vass said. The minimum user -- up to 3,000 gallons per day -- would see the bill increase by $3.29 per month and just under $40 per year. The average user would see the bill increase by $6.11 or $73.32 per year.

The town also has proposed raising the cigarette tax from its current levy of 10 cents to 15 cents per pack. By comparison, levies in or proposed by other towns include: 35 cents in Mt. Jackson; 25 cents in Woodstock; 25 cents in Strasburg.

Under the proposed financial plan, the town would add no new positions but compensation for full-time employees increases by 7 percent. The total includes a 5-percent pay increase to offset the 5 percent employees must pay into the Virginia Retirement System as mandated by the General Assembly. As Vass explained, by raising the amount employees must pay into their retirement, legislators did not foresee the increase in taxes so the 7 percent includes 0.7 percent to offset the added burden. Another 1.3 percent is included in the increase in compensation for the employees' cost of living allowance.

The general fund includes capital projects such as the completion of Phase II of the streetscape beautification along Congress Street. The total project cost is estimated at $720,000 and the town, which must pay 20 percent of the price, expects to receive bids for the work June 7, Vass said. Other capital spending includes work for the final phase of improvements to Shady Lane as well as a small amount of money for engineering for sidewalks on U.S. 211 East and drainage on John Sevier Road. The $6,000 spent toward the project would give the town a ballpark figure of the total cost of the projects, Vass said.

The draft budget also includes funding to replace a computer network server and a mower.

Councilman Douglas Bradley didn't comment on the proposed budget after the hearing except to laud Vass' efforts to craft the spending plan.

"We had a choice -- we could take money out of the reserve funds and then, you know, we wouldn't have as high of an increase in some of these rates, but it was the opinion of the council that we do not take that money from the reserve fund and that's why the increases are a little higher than what we might, you know, expect, and I agree with that," Bradley said. "I think when you start dipping into the reserve fund that's kind of a bad habit."

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