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Tax, fee hikes likely

Thursday, April 11, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville residents can expect to see an increase in a tax rate and/or a fee for a service in the new fiscal year that will start July 1.

A fiscal 2014 budget proposal will be presented to Martinsville City Council during a special meeting at 7 tonight at the municipal building uptown.

“Our budget recommendation will include some rate adjustments,” said City Manager Leon Towarnicki. Asked if that means increases, he said yes, but he would not elaborate.

However, he said water, sewer and electric rate hikes will not be proposed.

Because city finances are tight and expenses continue to rise, the increases will “provide revenue necessary for ongoing operations,” Towarnicki said.

“We don’t take increases lightly,” he said. “When our costs go up ... it’s not the first straw we grab” to try and make up for the higher costs.

But “unfortunately, rate increases are needed from time to time,” he said.

Higher expenses that the city will face in fiscal 2014 include health insurance costs and Virginia Retirement System contributions, Towarnicki said.

Despite any rate or fee increase proposed, the spending plan includes the city dipping into reserve funds, as it has done in recent years, he noted.

“It’s certainly a concern when you spend more (money) than you take in” each year, Towarnicki said. Eventually, “that will have to be addressed.”

That may be easier said than done. For example, Towarnicki said, the city basically has eliminated every job it could spare without services to residents suffering.

He estimated that 40-45 jobs have been eliminated in the past few years.

“You can only go so far” with spending cuts, he said.

He indicated that in the future, increases in taxes and fees and/or cuts in services might be unavoidable.

The budget proposal is to include a 3 percent across-the-board pay increase for city employees to match what the state has mandated for constitutional office workers. City staff members in departments under the city manager’s domain generally have not had raises since 2008.

“City council did indicate some interest” in raising salaries in the new fiscal year, Towarnicki said.

An increase in local funding for the city schools also is to be proposed, but Towarnicki declined to say how much. He recalled that the council reduced the schools’ allocation for the current fiscal year.

As part of their approved budget, the schools are seeking $6,360,531, a $660,531 increase over the current year.

The council tonight will consider setting a public hearing on the proposed budget for May 28 as well as work sessions to discuss it.

No public comment will be taken during tonight’s meeting, Towarnicki said.

 

 
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