My, what a busy month March was for us Town Council members!We began our budget work in earnest during our daylong March 12 budget work session. We have advertised a tax rate of 20 cents per $100 of assessed value for the upcoming fiscal year 2020, which runs from July 1 to June 30, 2020. This tax rate is an increase from our current fiscal year’s rate of 19 cents. However, we agreed to advertise the higher rate in order to give us flexibility to see what we can afford in the upcoming year’s spending plan. It is worth noting that, legally, we cannot adopt a tax rate over what is advertised, but we can adopt a rate under what is advertised, so keeping the tax rate level is indeed a possibility.
With any adopted rate and budget as a whole, we need to consider our needs for future planning and rising costs, particularly in construction, without a considerable growth in the tax base.
There are several noteworthy items that we are considering for funding in fiscal year 2020: renovation of the playground in Rose Hill Park; creation of a deputy town manager position to assist our town manager and be the point of contact for the Public Works and Utilities departments; replacement of a police department cruiser.Also, as of this writing, we have set aside funding for the three budget goals adopted by the council in the last quarter of 2018: funding for police department accreditation; matching funding, along with the Clarke County Board of Supervisors, for a study on the extension of Jack Enders Boulevard; and funding for a branding and marketing study of the town, which would enable us to know our target markets to grow our tax base and foster economic growth.We will adopt the budget and tax rate at our June meeting.
We welcome all public input at our upcoming budget public hearing, set for May 14.
Another matter before us in March was the findings of a study regarding our utility system. This study recommends increases in both our water and sewer rates to pay for the costs of the system over the next five years. Many of these increases stem from high anticipated capital costs, with a very good possibility that we will be eyeing a significant renovation, if not altogether replacement, of our water treatment plant. That cost, alone, hovers north of $11 million. The consultant who prepared the report is also recommending an increase to our fee for new water connections, but a decrease to sewer connection fees.As much as all of us would like to avoid utility rate increases, the high capital costs, quality mandates we must adhere to, as well as our low user base, means that we must find a way to fund our system to make sure it provides adequate service for years to come.A point of emphasis — our water and sewer funds are enterprise funds, meaning that they must be self-supporting. These funds have zero impact on our general fund, which is funded by our real estate and personal property taxes. So, an increase to water and sewer rates has no bearing on tax bills, and vice versa.The report, which is available on our website (www.berryvilleva.gov) provides useful information including growth rates of neighboring jurisdictions compared to ours, monthly usage analyses, and historic data on our utility rates.We always welcome and encourage public input. If you are not able to make it to a public hearing or the Citizens’ Forum at one of our meetings, please feel free to email us your thoughts.This monthly column is authored by the members of the Berryville Town Council. For information on town government, including meetings, agendas, and contact information for the Town Council and town staff, visit www.berryvilleva.gov.