Stephens City holds line on utility, tax rates

By Alex Bridges

Stephens City utility customers can expect no increase in their utility and tax rates — for now.

Town Council held a special meeting Wednesday to adopt the fiscal 2014 budget. Council adopted the budget as advertised, Town Manager Mike Kehoe said. Councilman Ron Bowers did not attend the meeting.

The 2014 budget calls for no increases in the tax rates on real estate or personal property. Likewise, the town plans no increases in the water and sewer rates charged to customers, Kehoe said.

“So we held the line,” Kehoe said.

Stephens City bucked a trend among other towns in the region that raised utility rates to cover increased water and sewer expenses spurred by costly upgrades to treatment facilities and stricter federal and state regulations.

The budget does include a revenue line item for water sales that Kehoe said may or may not happen. That does not affect the utility rates.

But Kehoe acknowledged that the town faces a steep increase in what it pays the Frederick County Service Authority for water. If Town Council finds it must raise the water and sewer rates charged to its customers, Kehoe said they would need to amend the fiscal budget at a later date.

“If the town receives a tremendous water rate increase from Frederick County, then the town may have to take action at that time,” Kehoe said. “But right now that’s not until January.”

Next year’s budget calls for the town to spend $1.05 million in its general fund. The utility fund of $960,700 covers the water and sewer service operations. The budget includes funds for merit pay increases that come in January.

Council heard no comments at the public hearing held on the proposed budget earlier this month or at the special meeting Wednesday, Kehoe said.

The town manager noted that the revenues for the end of the current fiscal year look positive. While Stephens City did not collect as much revenue as expected, the town curbed spending and that helped keep the budget balanced, Kehoe said.

The town did see increases in tax revenue from business licenses, sales and meals. Cigarette sales didn’t meet the town’s budget projections, missing the mark by $25,000-$30,000, Kehoe said.

The town also saw a decrease in the amount of money collected from fines and forfeitures. Town police likely had to write fewer tickets during the fiscal year, Kehoe said.

However, during the fiscal year, Kehoe said town police still handled more than 2,500 calls for service, not including traffic citations, an increase from the previous period.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com