Council votes to use reserves for project

STRASBURG — The Strasburg Town Council has agreed to use monies from the water and sewer fund reserves to help build the new Department of Public Works Facility.

The council voted 7 to 1 Tuesday night to move $856,000 from the water reserve fund and $856,000 from the sewer reserve fund to help construct the 18,000-square-foot facility in the North Shenandoah Industrial and Business Park.

The facility is expected to cost anywhere between $4.8 million to $5.8 million to complete.

Before the roll call vote, council member Don Le Vine said during work sessions that council decided that if the project’s budget breaks the current cap of $5.5 million, it would find other ways to finish it.

Le Vine said, “The cost could go up because there are certain costs we cannot anticipate. The geological study might increase the cost, as is making sure the building is in full compliance [of] our town’s unified development ordinance.”

According to Le Vine, the construction of the public works facility is fulfilling a promise the council made to the department, however the council needs to beware of other departments’ needs.

“The department of public works is vital to our town, thus we need to allocate the funds,” Le Vine said. “It’s a powerful argument that can be used elsewhere.”

Le Vine continued, “For example, economic development … my prediction is, we’re going to need more funds for the business park. So why not authorize this extra cost since the development of the business park is at least as important as the public works building.”

Le Vine also warned the council that using the water and sewer reserves would bring the reserve funds closer to zero. He said the council would either have to raise fees and taxes or borrow more money for economic development, infrastructure and public works needs.

Council member Robert Baker voted against the measure, citing the 2011 raise in water and sewer fees for the wastewater plant upgrade as a cause of an excess funds in the first place.

“In the course of campaigning for reelection in 2012, when I would receive complaints about the increase, I would say the upgrade was mandated by the Chesapeake Bay cleanup and would explain to them the rationale for the rate increase, saying I fully supported it,” Baker said.

According to Baker, because the wastewater plant would not cost as much as initially estimated, that created a surplus in the sewer reserve, leading to lower sewer fees. Baker said it was because of this that he voted against the measure.

“It is this ‘excess’ money in the sewer fund, above and beyond the sewer fund’s share, that the council voted to spend for construction of the building,” Baker said. “Usually the general, water and sewer funds would each contribute a third.”

Baker continued, “While the sewer user fee has been lowered as a result of the ‘surplus,’ from my perspective, if I had voted in favor of the proposal, I would have been less than candid with the citizens of Strasburg.”

In other business, the council voted unanimously to amend the town’s grass ordinance, reducing the maximum grass length from 12 inches to 8 inches. Also, the town will only send one notice a year to those in violation of the ordinance, giving land owners seven days to comply before the town will cut it and charge them.

The council also voted unanimously to award a design contract to Line+Grade Civil Engineering for the Gateway Trail Project, which will go from downtown to the Food Lion shopping center. According to Judson Rex, town manager, the design process will begin in 2015 and will take up to 14-18 months due to Virginia Department of Transportation reviews.

The Strasburg Town Council will meet again at 7 p.m. Jan. 13 at Town Hall.

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or