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Additional tax revenue would allow the city to borrow more for a series of major projects, Roanoke’s mayor said.
Monday, April 1, 2013
As Roanoke officials struggle to close the last $1.1 million gap in the budget that the city council begins to consider in just two weeks, Mayor David Bowers thinks they ought to consider a tax increase as well as a raise for himself and the rest of the city council.
But City Manager Chris Morrill thinks he can trim enough to avoid an increase.
Bowers' suggestion, made after a long day of budget discussions, took other members of the council by surprise.
"I think we've managed in a responsible way so that we don't need to ask citizens to pay any more," Councilman Bill Bestpitch said.
"Our tax revenues have been down because businesses aren't doing as well and people's houses aren't worth as much and they aren't going out and buying as much," Vice Mayor Court Rosen said. "I don't think it's right to ask them for more."
But Bowers said the city has had to make too many cuts for too many years.
"I was really struck that we're only now reaching the point where we were in 2008," Bowers said. "I think we've managed really well, but there are too many services we're talking about cutting."
More tax revenue would make it possible to borrow more for a series of major construction projects and equipment purchases that city staff think will have to be trimmed, Bowers added.
One, the school system's request for $7 million to renovate Round Hill Elementary School, sparked suggestions from council members that big jumps in capital spending need to be planned further in advance. School board Chairman David Carson said the board should have communicated its needs more clearly.
Council members said they simply couldn't afford the $7 million but approved setting aside $3.5 million for the Round Hill school project in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2015, on top of the $5 million already reserved for school projects.
Instead of tax increases, city officials are taking yet another look at some - but no more than half - of the roughly $900,000 of service enhancements they had proposed for next year's spending plan.
They're also looking at other budget tweaks, including possibly delaying planned pay raises or trimming spending to boost financial reserves or replace equipment.
Morrill said he is also hoping early reports on this year's personal property tax collections will show more revenue than the city staff's current conservative projections.
The bottom line, though, is, "We're not going to have to increase tax rates," he said of the budget, which the council plans to formally approve in May.
"I think it's important to note we are still talking about enhancing services," even if finances are tight, Morrill told the city council during a budget work session.
The expanded services that have made it through the budget-writing process so far include:
Most of the rest of the enhancements involve funds for part-time support work, particularly in the area of public safety.
The city's contribution to public schools is projected to rise 2 percent from this year's level to reach $74.2 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
But the city still needs to stretch to figure out how to pay for the $409,000 bill for staff that supports a range of health and social service programs as well as the $222,000-a-year cost of having city workers help people with disabilities dispose of their trash.
Some proposals, though, are already off the table, at least for this year. They include four new positions in the city's purchasing, personnel and public relations offices, which would have cost $193,000 a year.
Overall, Finance Director Ann Shawver is projecting a roughly 2.4 percent increase in revenue next year, compared with this year's total. That would cap city spending at $259 million for the year beginning July 1 because local governments aren't allowed to spend more than they take in.
In other business, the council:
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