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The plan does not include raises for county staff or fund new fire and rescue positions.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Prefacing the unveiling of his proposed general government fund budget for the upcoming year, Roanoke County Administrator Clay Goodman made one point clear.
"There are no new taxes," he said, per the wish of the five-person board of supervisors.
There were also no salary increases for county staff, the fire and rescue departments were denied 42 new positions, and then, of course, there was the elephant in the room. Brent Robertson , the county director of management and budget, addressed it outright.
"I think it's reached that critical point where we are impacting our services negatively," Robertson said, "and demand for services are continuing to increase."
With an uncertain economic environment ahead, Goodman on Tuesday presented to the board a proposed 2013- 14 budget that nearly mirrors last year's. At $170.96 million, the budget grew by less than 1 percent from the year prior - or $1.22 million. The growth was attributable to projected increases in personal property sales, business licenses and lodging taxes.
If accepted and approved by the board May 28, the budget's current form will sustain most existing service levels and shield the county staff from layoffs. In his fiscal forecast, Goodman predicted car sales will remain strong. Also, retail sales, along with meals, lodging and recordation taxes, are projected to grow.
"These projections are an indication of a strengthening economy," Goodman's overview report states. "But real estate taxes continue to dampen the overall revenue picture."
He estimated the local real estate market will continue to decline, eventually hitting a plateau. In turn, citizen services will be affected indirectly, the result of department budgets staying the same during the past several years. Some residents have experienced occasionally delayed trash trucks, or parks with delayed mowing schedules .
"We won't be able to buy equipment as quickly," Goodman said. "When a truck breaks down and we can't get out, that's the impact. There are some erosions that are occurring."
Looking forward to the upcoming year, Robertson said county staff is marching to the same drumbeat: "Do what's important well, and cut back on the rest."
He also said his office is monitoring federal sequestration and its potential effects, which likely will be minimal.
"There is a concern," he said. "We haven't put a dollar amount on it yet because it's more of a cloud on the horizon."
In developing the budget, Robertson said county departments requested more than $4.7 million. They received $487,215 . The stark difference represented what officials referred to as "the new normal," with overhanging staffing, operational, and fiscal challenges to boot.
The proposed budget in hand, supervisors were asked to begin setting priorities for the next budget cycle. Tasked with weighing constituency desires against needs, the board has already started brainstorming.
Board Chairman Mike Altizer started discussion on a positive note.
"Something is happening out there," he said of the improved economy. "T here's no doubt about that."
"We still believe that things could get better," Robertson replied. "But right now the evidence that I see is that 2 [percent] to 3 percent growth for next year is probably our reality."
Altizer mused about building revenue without touching taxes or fees by asking the business community what ordinances could be amended or eliminated to facilitate growth. The other four chimed in, too.
"Do we have some regulations that really don't need to be there?" he asked. "Are we impeding business? What can we do that makes sense?"
"Does anybody want to sit here and say that our ordinances, and the way we do business, are absolutely pure and sweet?"
The board is scheduled to hold a public hearing about the proposed budget April 23. Residents are invited to come and sign up to speak. A final vote on the budget will take place in late May.
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