Council talks taxes, budget at retreat

STRASBURG – Town Council likely won’t try to raise taxes this coming fiscal year – at least not for the first half.

But other options to create revenue or to cut spending remain on the table, council members said during a retreat Friday. Council and town officials talked about priorities and how to fund major projects, including the improvements needed to better market the Northern Shenandoah Industrial and Business Park.

Council has run out of time to make a decision on whether or not to increase tax rates on personal property or real estate for this billing cycle. Council still could change other fees or tax rates, such as those on meals, in the next fiscal year.

The consensus by council to keep its main tax rates steady leaves the town with few options to increase revenue that would help make up a $13,000 deficit in Strasburg’s general fund.

Council agreed to decrease the town’s policy on how much it keeps in savings or fund balance to 20 percent. The change frees up $811,000 for capital improvement projects that council also discussed. The town has $1.77 million in savings or 36.83 percent of its operating budget of $4.82 million. The town would still have $964,616 in savings under the proposed policy. The town’s fund-balance policies for the water and sewer funds would remain at 30 percent.

Council discussed capital projects such as the Gateway Trail on U.S. 11, phase IV of the downtown streetscape, the town’s $300,000 obligation toward the downtown revitalization grant, improvements to the water and sewer lines by the Department of Public Works, the business park and quality of life enhancements. Public Works improvements are estimated to cost roughly $17.45 million. Phases of the improvements to the business park are estimated to cost $2.65 million, $1.12 million and $1.32 million. The town would need to spend $600,000 on the Gateway Trail and $240,000 to cover its cost of the streetscape.

The town needs to focus on improving the business park and attract users so Strasburg can begin collecting revenue as fast as it can, Councilman Seth Newman said. Councilman Donald Le Vine pointed out that the town should make at least some improvements to the water and sewer lines before their conditions worsen.

“We need money,” Le Vine said.

Newman reiterated his suggestion that the only way the town can see more revenue is to spend the money to improve the business park.

Mayor Timothy Taylor said that the town might need to make some “painful” spending cuts. But the town should at least move forward on the business park improvements, especially since council spent more than $100,000 on a plan for the area, Taylor added.

“We don’t want to do nothing ’cause that’s $100,000 down the drain,” Taylor said.

The town will phase in the business park improvements over several years, Newman noted.

Councilman Scott Terndrup criticized himself and colleagues for not helping staff find ways to balance the budget. Terndrup suggested council take $400,000 out of reserves to cover the town’s $300,000 obligation of the downtown revitalization efforts.

Council needs to look at the big picture and a reasonable plan identifying the revenue sources for major projects, Le Vine said. Councilman Rich Orndorff Jr. pointed out that the town remains obligated to at least cover its share of the revitalization grant. Orndorff suggested council fund the grant obligation, remove that from the equation and find revenue for the rest of the projects.

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

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