By Alex Bridges
New Market should balance next year's budget without raising most major taxes.
But the town still struggles economically and officials say New Market needs to increase some levies in order to raise the revenue needed to cover increasing costs of government. Town Manager Evan Vass proposed such rate increases in the draft of the fiscal 2015 budget released Thursday.
Town Council's Finance and Personnel Committee is expected to discuss the proposed budget at its meeting April 16. Councilman Tim Palmer and other members took their first glance at the proposal that afternoon.
"I think the town, generally speaking, is in pretty good shape," Palmer said.
The proposed general fund budget of $1.52 million reflects an increase of $64,370 in spending. The town can balance its budget without raising taxes on real estate, personal property or by increasing levies charged to businesses, according to information from Vass.
Vass' proposed budget does not include funding for new positions, aside from the events and marketing director created and filled in the current cycle. Vass does propose a 3 percent increase in spending on personnel, or a total of $25,500 in salaries -- 1.5 percent to cover a cost-of-living adjustment for all full-time employees and 1.5 percent to fund a merit pay raise.
Town employees received a 3 percent salary increase in the current budget.
Palmer pointed out that council also faces the task of finding a new town manager. Vass leaves his position in May to take the assistant county administrator position for Shenandoah County.
"This is a difficult time of year to be looking for a town manager," Palmer said. "But the good news is that he is local, he is here basically like we say a phone call away, so if there is something that needs to be resolved it will be easy to get in touch with him."
The budget proposes a 3 percent increase in water and sewer fees. Vass explains in the budget that the increase would mean the average user of water and sewer service can expect to pay an additional $2.07 per month for the combined utilities. Vass explains that the town needs to increase the usage fees so the water and sewer "enterprise" accounts can remain self-sufficient.
Under the proposed rates, residential and commercial water fees increase from $9.30 to $9.60 for the first 1,700 gallons used and from $4.11 to $4.23 for each 1,000 over the minimum. Sewer rates increase from $28.10 to $28.94 for the first 1,700 gallons and from $13.68 to $14.09 for each 1,000 gallons over the minimum.
The proposed budget includes an increase in the tax rate charged on cigarettes. Vass proposes raising the rate by 5 cents to 20 cents per pack. The increase would generate an additional $24,000 in revenue. Vass proposes this change as an alternative to raising the real estate tax. The town would need to increase the real estate tax rate by 13 cents per $100 of assessed value, or 1.5 percent, to generate the same amount of revenue.
New Market's rate would remain the lowest among towns and cities along the Interstate 81 corridor even with the increase. By comparison, Mount Jackson charges 40 cents per pack and Harrisonburg charges 30 cents. Strasburg, Stephens City and Woodstock charge 25 cents per pack.
The budget calls for an increase of $2 per month, or $24 per year, per household for curbside trash collection. Residents would pay $11 per month for the service under the proposed increase. Vass noted that the town has not increased trash collection fees in five years. New Market charges the second lowest monthly fee among towns in the area.
Capital expenses include:
- $16,000 to replace the floor in the Town Hall and to paint interior walls of the police department wing and council chambers
- $20,000 to cover half of the cost to replace a small dump truck in the public works department, with the remaining amount covered by the water and sewer fund's capital budget
- $10,000 to cover the first phase of the replacement of workout stations on the walking trail in the town community park. This would replace units installed in the early 1990s.
- $50,000 in public safety to replace a police cruiser ($20,000 is included in the current budget to help offset the cost) and for in-car cameras
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org