Council discusses tax rate, department changes

FRONT ROYAL – Town Council might give taxpayers some good news this year.

Town Manager Steve Burke is recommending that council not make any changes to the local tax rates at this time.

The town charges 13 cents per $100 of the assessed value on real estate and 64 cents for personal property, among other levies. The town has dedicated portions of the real estate tax to go toward a new headquarters for the police department, an extension of Main Street through the former Avtex Fibers property and its share of the cost for the Leach Run Parkway project.

The police headquarters project is estimated to cost $5.55 million. The town is expected to pay $3.4 million toward the $17 million Leach Run Parkway project. Happy Creek Road Phase 2 is estimated to cost $4 million with the town covering $2.68 million. A sidewalk trail program will cost an estimated $750,000. The Main Street extension is estimated to cost $1.75 million with the town covering $250,000.

“Again, we believe that we’ll hopefully be able to realize some alternative funding sources that potentially will help a number of these projects so if that comes to pass, and we’ll know that within a few months, we’ll have a better gauge as to whether or not there will need to be a tax-rate increase and we would not anticipate that requirement happening until the next fiscal year,” Burke said.

The town needs to advertise a tax rate by the end of March, Burke said. Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe voiced concern about needing to make a decision on the rate by the deadline.

The town would need to put off projects such as the police headquarters if it cannot find the revenue, Burke said. Tharpe noted that the town has been working on the police headquarters project for two to three years. The town has been working with an architect for the past several months.

“Well we need to get this thing built and we need to get our people all in one house,” Tharpe said.

The town should know in the next couple of months how it can fund the project, Burke said.

Council likely will talk about the tax rate at another work session before it decides on a levy to advertise for public hearing, Mayor Timothy Darr said.

The town also might make changes to its finance department when its longtime director, Kim Gilkey-Breeden, retires in April. Burke told council about a reorganization proposal for the department that members might consider in the near future. The reorganization plan, if implemented, would save the town approximately $68,000 per year through the elimination of 1½ positions. The town could factor the changes into the fiscal 2017 budget if council approves the plan, Burke said.

The department consists of a director, a purchasing agency, two financial analysts and six accounting technicians. The risk manager also performs some fiscal-related, human resource projects such as payroll and processing salary adjustments.

The proposal calls for the elimination of the director position and a financial analyst post and to delegate oversight of the daily operation of the department to a finance manager. A part-time budget manager would oversee the town’s spending plan and continually watch for any factors that would impact the revenue and expense sides, Burke said. The move would exchange a $133,000-per-year job with one that pays about $90,000. The town also would redefine the risk manager position. The risk manager, Sue McIntosh, also is retiring soon and one of the financial analysts likely would be hired to that position, Burke said. That would allow the town to cut one of the financial analyst positions, Burke added. The town also would establish a career-path program for the tellers and create a senior customer service specialist position, Burke said.

Councilman Jacob Meza asked if cutting the positions would impact the department’s efficiency. The changes wouldn’t affect customer service, Burke said.

The town could restore the finance director position in the future, Burke said. However, Burke said he believed this change would remain longterm. Mayor Timothy Darr said he would like to see the town expand the budget manager position to full time. Darr said he doesn’t want the part-time position to remain open-ended. The position would come without benefits and the person hired would work 30 hours per day over four days.

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