New Market budget omits Chamber of Commerce

NEW MARKET – The town’s next budget likely will not include money for the local Chamber of Commerce.

The organization asked town officials to allocate $1,500 in the fiscal 2016 budget. The current budget includes $3,500 for the Chamber.

Town Council held a public hearing on the proposed fiscal 2016 budget at a special meeting Monday. No one spoke at the hearing. Carol Palmer, acting president of the Chamber board, told council that other members of the organization she expected to speak did not show for the hearing. Vice Mayor John Blosser told Palmer those people who did not attend the meeting could submit their comments to Town Manager Mike Ritchie.

Town Council can act on the proposed budget at its meeting next Monday. Ritchie said after the meeting that in order to accommodate the Chamber’s request in the budget, the spending plan would need to go back to council’s Finance Committee for consideration.

Palmer, wife of Councilman Tim Palmer, said after the meeting that she has spoken several times already to council about the Chamber’s request.

“We feel that we’re going to be turned down,” Palmer said. “We’re the ones who bring in all the … visitors and everything into the county and into New Market.”

The proposed budget includes $27,000 in community-support donations to a façade enhancement grant program, the New Market Area Library, the community center, New Market Rebels Baseball and the Virginia Commission for the Arts Local Challenge Grant.

Ritchie presented the proposed $3.31 million budget that reflects a reduction in spending of 2 percent. The budget includes approximately $1.46 million for the general fund and $1.84 million for the water and sewer utilities. Ritchie attributed that change to a reduction in spending on capital improvement projects.

Department leaders kept their budget requests to a minimum, Ritchie said.

The budget includes a 2-percent salary increase partially offset by a switch to a less expensive health insurance plan, Ritchie explained.

“We knew this was coming for years,” Ritchie said. “We’ve had a top tier health insurance plan. Being faced with another increase in cost for that in the upcoming year, we dropped down one level. It’s still a very good policy and I think the town can … rest assured that they are still taking care of the employees.”

The proposed budget reflects a 2-percent increase in the water and sewer rates. The town needs to increase the rates periodically to cover the rising cost to provide the services and inflation, Ritchie explained. The change would increase the average monthly bill for using up to 1,700 gallons of water, including trash pickup, from $49.54 to $50.31. A user of 3,000 gallons would see the bill increase from $73.36 to $74.59 per month.

The budget also calls for a 2-cent increase in the real estate tax rate, from 12 cents to 14 cents per $100 of the assessed value. That’s in addition to the 57-cent rate property owners in town pay to Shenandoah County.

The owner of property valued at $200,000 would see the real estate tax bill increase by $40, from $240 to $280. The new rate takes effect in the next tax year.

Even with the 2-cent increase, New Market would share the lowest rate of the towns in Shenandoah County with Mount Jackson. By comparison, other current rates are 15 cents in Woodstock, 16 cents in Strasburg and 19 cents in Edinburg.

Ritchie pointed out that the town would incur no new debt in the next fiscal year. The general fund remains debt-free, while the town can expect to make its annual payment of $564,400 on loans for water and sewer projects.

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