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Strasburg sets budget, utility rates

By Alex Bridges

Strasburg's budget adopted by Town Council this week gives relief to residents and property owners beginning July 1.

Council voted Tuesday to approve the fiscal 2015 budget of $10.48 million that calls for no increases in the local tax rates. Utility customers also can expect to see slight decreases in what they pay for sewer service after experiencing four years of rate increases. Residents also will pay less for trash and recycling collection.

The spending plan includes approximately $4.95 million in the general fund, $2.63 million in water, $2.62 million in sewer and $269,889 in trash. The budget reflects an increase in overall spending of $517,780 over the current period or approximately 5.2 percent. The budget does not include any salary increases or bonuses for town employees.

Town Manager Judson Rex pointed out Thursday that Strasburg residents and taxpayers can expect to see some relief in the next fiscal year.

Tax rates on real estate, personal property and machinery and tools remain unchanged. The town charges a real estate tax rate of 16 cents per $100 on the assessed value; $1.11 per $100 of the assessed value on personal property; and 86 cents per $100 of the assessed value on machinery and tools.

Property owners can still expect to pay higher real estate tax bills to Shenandoah County as a result of a rate increase from 54 cents to 57 cents per $100 of the assessed value.

The budget also sets the rates for water, sewer and trash collection. The monthly water rate for residential users remains unchanged at $24.10 for the minimum of 2,000 gallons and $11.70 per 1,000 gallons over the minimum; $25.01 for the minimum and $16.52 per 1,000 gallons over the minimum.

Sewer rates will fall by 10 percent. Council set sewer rates at $19.03 for the minimum of 2,000 gallons and $10.33 per 1,000 over that amount for residential customers. Non-residential customers will pay $20.48 per the minimum and $12.88 for each 1,000 gallons over that amount. The new rates are less than the current levies of $21.14 for the minimum and $11.48 per 1,000 gallons over that amount for residential customers and, for non-residential users, $22.76 for the minimum plus $14.31 per 1,000 gallons over that amount.

The town began incremental increases in the sewer rates several years ago in anticipation that Strasburg would need to borrow money to build the wastewater treatment plant upgrades as mandated by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Strasburg qualified for more grant money than expected and zero percent interest on the loan for the sewage treatment plant project. This, coupled with a lower-than-expected cost for the project, allows the town to reduce the sewer rates by 10 percent. Customers who use an average of 5,000 gallons of water per month should see a $5 decrease in their month sewer bill, Rex said. This rate may not change for a few years.

"We think we can stay where were at for a few years and then we'll re-evaluate [rates]," Rex said.

All sewer and/or water customers outside town limits pay 40 percent more than the in-town rates.

Households can also expect to pay less for trash and recycling collection due to a new contract with a different company. Beginning July 1, the town will charge each household a monthly fee of $8.39 for trash collection and $2.02 for recycling. This compares to the current fees of $9.20 for trash collection and $2.05 for recycling.

Prior to the budget's adoption, council approved a new, three-year contract for trash and recycling collection with American Disposal Services. The fees remain in effect through June 30, 2015. The company shall give the town 90 days notice before it proposes any rate increases. The contract takes effect July 1 and collection will shift from Wednesdays to Fridays.

The budget also includes changes to some fees charged for development in town. Zoning permit fees for new residential construction will increase from $60 to $100. The home-occupation permit fee will decrease from $50 to $30. The town also will begin charging $50 for a change-of-use permit. Fees charged related to the historic district review will be waived for fiscal 2015 "to provide further assistance or incentive for our downtown revitalization efforts and sign fees were cut in half as well," said Economic Development and Planning Manager Kimberly Murray.

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

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