NEW MARKET – Town Council members wrestled through their first run at a budget for the fiscal year 2020 on Tuesday evening.
Town Manager Todd Walters said he included everything that council members had discussed in previous months so they could see the scope of what they are asking for.
“Why do we even show you all this? I think, number one, it provides you with information of what your staff thinks they need,” Walters said. “Also, it gives you a chance to see what I think we need…If we never show you, you’re not going to know.”
Before suggesting which items should be trimmed, the longer list included one new police vehicle; new playground and exercise equipment for the town park; new vehicles for town maintenance including a salt spreader and street sweeper, as well as commissioning a salary study to see how New Market compares with neighboring localities.
All in all, the first draft of the budget would have required council members to dip into their reserve funds — pulling out roughly $900,000 to balance the budget. Walters assured council members he wasn’t suggesting they do that, but they did have to prepare to discuss how much of their reserve funding they were willing to work with.
In recent years, the town has been gun-shy when it comes to spending on projects, Walters said. As a result, lists of items are stacking up and forcing current council members’ hands.
Past frugality has left the town with a decent cushion in reserve funds — roughly $1.3 million. Walters encouraged council members to start thinking about an official policy that helps control how much of the town’s reserve funds need to be held and what can be spent.
“I believe our auditor suggests a minimum of 15 percent,” Walters said. “In Christiansburg, we were at 35 to 40 percent.”
Council members said they would consider working on a policy for future reference. When they are ready to move forward with that policy, it will be discussed at a work session before it is approved.
One of the largest items that appeared in Walters’ first draft was about $3 million for a new water tower. The town plans on moving forward with applications for funding for that project; however, budgeted payments to pay that loan back were removed as the project isn’t likely to break ground before next spring, Walters said.
Other items that Walters suggested council members hold off on approving for the next budget include adding a new police vehicle — though they do plan on adding one full-time officer.
Walters also said he believes he has enough information for an informal salary analysis to present, rather than paying $25,000 an outside group to perform one.
Another study — a retail analysis study multiple towns throughout the county are planning to participate in — appeared to make the cut as Walters said he thinks identifying precise businesses that might be attracted to New Market was key to the town’s growth and development.
Walters said after the meeting residents should expect to see slight increases in water and sewer taxes as they increase with inflation and to help fund the new water tower project. Other taxes including a meals tax, property tax and cigarette tax were discussed, but no action was taken.
Councilman Scott Wymer was not present for Tuesday’s work session.