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Town budget shows small spending increase

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL -- With tax rates set, Town Council took its first look at a fiscal 2015 budget on Monday.

Town Manager Steven Burke presented his proposed spending plan for the next fiscal period. Burke's proposed budget of $39.2 million represents a small increase from the current budget of $38.5 million. The proposed budget includes $12.1 million in general fund spending.

Council heard the proposal at its work session. Councilmen Daryl Funk and Thomas Sayre did not attend the session. Burke noted that council would discuss the proposed budget at least two more times before the town holds the public hearing on the spending plan in May.

However, as Burke explained, staff members developed the proposed budget before council approved a 2 cent increase in the real estate tax rate on its final reading last week. The increased levy means the town can expect to collect $225,000 in additional revenue in fiscal 2015. However, the town already plans to use that money to help pay for the new police department headquarters and its share of the Leach Run Parkway loan payments.

The proposal does not include pay raises, one-time bonuses or a cost-of-living increase for town employees.

The town establishes its utility rates for the enterprise funds. Burke's proposed budget calls for a 6.5 percent increase in the water rate. The town had anticipated raising the rate by 8.5 percent to help pay off the loan used to fund improvements to the water system. The budget also calls for a 10 percent increase in the sewer rates. The town had anticipated a 30 percent increase.

Water rates increase from $9.31 to $9.92 for the first 3,000 gallons used. The rate for each additional 1,000 gallons increases from $7.99 to $8.51 under the proposed budget. The percentage increase in the rate also applies to the connection fees.

Sewer rates increase from $15.72 to $17.30 for the first 3,000 gallons used, under the proposal. The rate for each additional 1,000 gallons increases from $13.53 to $14.88.

The town does not propose any increases in the rates for trash pickup and electricity.

Burke's presentation included the impact of the proposed rates on customers. A single, residential customer would expect to see his or her utility bill increase from $126.19 to $128.38 per month. A typical family that uses 7,000 gallons of water and sewer per month would see the bill increase from $264.40 to $274.08.

The majority of the 70 percent increase in spending in the town's sewer fund is directly attributed to the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant, Burke explained.

The town's spending on sewer services has increased by nearly 79 percent due mainly to the need to remain compliant with environmental regulations, Burke noted. The general fund as proposed reflects a 5 percent decrease in spending by the same fund in fiscal 2009.

The budget includes funds to upgrade the part-time legal assistant position to full time; to continue the master police officer program in the police department; establish a meter technician program; set up a no-cost, basic health insurance option for employees; and to cover a 4.8-percent increase in health insurance costs for town staff members.

Capital projects funded in the budget include: the town's share of the cost to design the Leach Run Parkway; improvements to the water system; the design of the Criser Road bridge; vehicle replacements; design of the new police headquarters; a study on the electric rates; and tablets for council meetings.

Other items not funded in the proposed budget include: the construction of the police headquarters or Leach Run Parkway, sick leave fiscal liability, a trail on Criser Road, new finance software and the town building inspections.

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

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