THE INDEPENDENT NEWS
VIRGINIA BEACH – Virginia Beach City Manager David Hansen on Thursday, March 26, unveiled a $2.076 billion budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, an increase of 3.6 percent above the current year that would raise the real estate tax rate by 1.5 cents.
The budget proposal covers the 2019-2020 fiscal year, which begins on July 1, and it includes a six year look at spending on capital projects in which one year of the funding would be adopted with the overall budget, and spending in years two through six is anticipated.
David Bradley, director of budget and management services for the city, presented the spending plan during a City Council work session, noting that it reflected council priorities – with storm water, flooding and sea level rise at the top of the list.
Over the next few years, spending on storm water projects – a growing concern since storms in 2016 laid bare flooding issues in Virginia Beach – will become the largest portion of the capital improvement plan, according to Bradley’s presentation.
Bradley highlighted a change in the spending level for storm water projects between the FY16-17 plan and the proposed capital spending for the coming year, showing the city’s priority on such work. Storm water projects rose from about 9 percent of the spending plan then to 23 percent in the proposed budget.
“It has dramatically increased over the three-year period,” Bradley said.
A few highlights follow.
► The budget includes funding to continue implementation of full-day kindergarten, but it does not include a suggested tax increase sought by the schools budget plan. About 42 of nearly 78 positions sought by the schools for the coming year are related to full-day kindergarten.
► The proposal would raise city employee compensation by 3 percent, on par with a pay increase for the schools, Hansen wrote. Bradley, in his presentation, noted that there would be a 3 percent merit increase for full-time employees based upon a mid-point pay range, a 3 percent “lump sum” raise for employees at the end of the pay range, and a 3 percent increase for part-time workers. Health insurance costs would not rise for city workers, and the city would handle a 3 percent increase on Jan. 1.
► The budget proposal would increase the number of police on the streets by hiring civilians to staff positions that are held by sworn officers. Additional public safety positions would help the commonwealth’s attorney handle the workload related to body-worn cameras and add staffing to the Animal Care and Adoption Center and prepare for the Burton Station Rescue Station.
► The increase in the real estate tax and various fees are estimated to mean perhaps an additional $179 for a taxpayer with a median-value home and two cars, according to the city.
There are increases in fees related to storm water, waste management and the city water rate in the proposed budget. Waste management collection would rise from $23 to $25 per month, and the water rate would grow from $4.41 to $4.90 per 1,000 gallons.
“After careful review of the range of options available for responsibly addressing our ongoing community’s need to continue growing our storm water program, this budget proposes a 1.5 cent increase in the real estate tax rate and continuing annual increases in the ERU fee to address storm water infrastructure operations and maintenance, flood control projects and water quality concerns,” Hansen wrote in a letter introducing the plan.
The equivalent residential unit, or ERU, is used to establish the city storm water utility fee charged on a housing unit. This would bring the rate to 49.3 cents per day, meaning an average increase of $12.78 per year.
Hansen wrote that this will provide money to expand the storm water program and pay for staff and speed up projects “to more rapidly reduce our flood risks.”
The proposed real estate tax rate hike would mean $45 dollars more per year to the owner of a home assessed at $300,000, and a 3.5 cent increase to the ERU per day would add $1.05 to monthly service bills, Hansen wrote.
According to the executive summary, Virginia Beach is looking at options to “reduce or eliminate … the regressive nature of having a single ERU rate for all residences.”
Public hearings on the plan are scheduled for April 24 and April 30. Reconciliation is scheduled for Tuesday, May 7, and the City Council is scheduled to adopt a budget on Tuesday, May 14.
“I think we’ve got some important decisions coming forward,” Mayor Bobby Dyer said following the budget presentation.
Dyer said he would have town hall meetings in every district.
“I would like to touch base with each of the communities in the city as a listening tour,” he said, “but also … You know, we have some challenges ahead. Hurricane Matthew changed the course and direction on us in many, many ways in terms of priorities. We have to deal with this in a very aggressive way.”
On Thursday, March 28, Bradley presented a briefing about the budget during the monthly forum hosted by City Councilmember Barbara Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District, at the municipal center.
Bradley said money remained in place for the agricultural reserve program, or ARP, which buys development rights to keep farmland active.
This past year, Hansen targeted the program in a spending plan. After a public outcry in rural communities, a compromise was worked out that preserved it, and, per that agreement, more than $990,000 annually would go toward southern canal and lead ditch storm water projects in rural communities.
Bradley said that funds projects in the southern watershed while meeting requirements for the agricultural reserve program.
“If the ARP does some booming, and we don’t have enough to cover the requests, we can always revisit that,” Henley said.
The proposal can be reviewed online via vbgov.com/budget, where PDF files can be downloaded for the executive summary, operating budget and capital improvement program. There are also resources available at the page that explain the budget and allow users to drill down into the details.
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