Council adopts town budget, sets utility rates

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL — Town leaders passed next year’s budget on Monday with little debate over the spending plan.

Town Council voted 4-2 to adopt the fiscal 2015 budget that calls for spending $39.46 million in Front Royal’s several funds.

Councilman Daryl Funk reiterated his stance on the budget, particularly the real estate tax rate the town increased in order to balance the spending plan. Funk voted against the rate increase when council acted on the levy earlier this spring. Funk pointed out that the votes occurred separately.

“However, I can’t really vote against raising taxes and then for spending the money that it raised,” Funk said.

Funk and Councilman Thomas Sayre voted against adopting the budget. Sayre echoed Funk’s opposition to the tax rate increase and the support for funding police department programs included in the spending plan.

Councilman Hollis Tharpe said he supported the budget despite its lack of funds for pay raises or bonuses for town staff.

Specifically, council adopted the annual appropriation ordinance for the fiscal 2015 budget on the second and final reading. The ordinance, approved at council’s May 26 meeting, included amendments dictating certain spending wishes for the police department.

Amendments to the ordinance as passed include:

  • The transfer of $9,000 from the general savings to fund the reclassification of the chief dispatcher position
  • The allocation of $15,500 to establish a senior dispatch program in the police department. Money comes from funds earmarked for the town attorney’s laptop, an arts grant request in tourism and air conditioning system installation.
  • The transfer of $8,585 from drug task force machinery and equipment to police investigations to fund new cell phone forensic software

In related action, council voted to adopt on a second reading an ordinance that reflects increased rates for water and sewer services. Under the ordinance, rates for water will increase 6.5 percent while the levy on sewer service will increase by 10 percent. Rates will be reflected in the utility bills issued after July 1. The ordinance also calls for an increase in the fees assessed on large utility meters.

Councilman Eugene Tewalt pointed out that the town must increase utility rates to raise the money needed to upgrade its sewer and water treatment facilities as required by state and federal regulatory agencies.

Funk opposed the rate increase approved by council last year but would support this change.

Town Manager Steve Burke pointed out that the increases were not as high as once expected. Burke said the town plans to revisit a study performed on the levies to determine if Front Royal can reduce the rates in the future.

Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker didn’t support the rate increases and cited the percentage of increases in the amounts transferred out of the water and sewer funds to the general fund. Parker pointed out that the rate increases correspond with similar percentage increases in the transfers from the water and sewer funds.

“If we’re increasing to pay for future improvements and mandates to the center, I don’t see how the administrative costs can mirror the same increase that is required,” Parker said. “I do believe that these are warranted but I don’t believe that those fund transfers should have matched the increase.”

The town auditor deemed the increases acceptable for development the transfer amount, Burke said. Parker suggested town staff advise the auditor that Front Royal needs to raise utility rates to generate money needed for future projects, not increases in administrative spending.

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