Strasburg likely to keep taxes, utility rates steady

Strasburg taxpayers likely can expect some relief in the town’s next budget.

Town Council gave early support Monday to a spending plan that includes no tax increases or utility rate hikes. Finance Director Dottie Mullins gave a report to council on the proposed fiscal 2016 budget that also could include a cost-of-living-adjustment for town staff.

The draft budget assumes tax rates remain unchanged. The town charges 16 cents per $100 of assessed value for real estate and $1.11 for personal property. Strasburg charges a 5 percent tax on meals and lodging (of which the county receives 1 percent) and 25 cents per pack on cigarettes.

Council talked about the impact of Shenandoah County’s tax levies on town residents. The county charges 57 cents per $100 of the assessed value on real estate. Owners of property in Strasburg pay both town and county taxes – essentially 73 cents per $100. Councilman Rich Orndorff criticized the practice of double taxing and suggested town residents should get a break.

“I still feel like the citizens in the incorporated towns take a hit from the county when the bulk of our services come from the town and they get double-taxed, and I’ve always had an issue with that,” Orndorff said. “I realize we have to pay for schools and E911 and court systems and things that we don’t want to take care of as a town.

“But I still think there should be some concession made for those who live in the town by the county since we police ourselves, we … take care of our sewage and so on,” Orndorff added.

Councilmen John Hall Jr. echoed Orndorff, saying town residents are “paying a tremendous amount of taxes and receiving nothing for it.”

Councilman Scott Terndrup brought up the issue of the county receiving a share of the lodging tax revenue. The town agreed to remit the 1 percent to the county for tourism. That percentage usually amounts to about $25,000 per year.

“That would be a major allocation to all these projects we have on the table,” Terndrup said.

Any discussion about the lodging tax contribution would need to involve county Tourism Director Jenna French and the Board of Supervisors, Mayor Tim Taylor said.

Also in the proposed budget, the town could include a 2 percent cost-of-living-adjustment for employees. Strasburg also is implementing a career-development program that helps adjust salaries for some employees to levels recommended in a study conducted several years ago. Some longtime workers were making as much as less-experienced employees, acting Town Manager Jay McKinley explained.

In the proposed budget, water and sewer rates will remain unchanged in fiscal 2016. The town plans to increase water and sewer rates by 2 percent and 3 percent, respectively, each year for five years beginning in fiscal 2017.

Council decided last year in adopting the fiscal 2015 budget to lower the water and sewer connection fees to $8,000 each through June 30, 2016. Council would revisit the fees when it works on the fiscal 2017 budget.

The budget also would include money for the next phase of the Downtown Streetscape Enhancement Project, the rest of the cost to design the Gateway Trail along U.S. 11 to the Food Lion shopping center, to replace the financial software as well as water and sewer lines.

Town staff proposed that council could review the budget this month and in April, hold the public hearing in May and adopt the spending plan in June. However, some members supported the idea of holding a second hearing earlier in the process in case the public offers some suggestions council hasn’t considered.

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