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April 12, 2017 – City Manager Mary Bunting previewed the highlights of her recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2018 at the afternoon City Council meeting today.
The FY18 Recommended Budget totals $467,844,000, a 1% increase from the FY17 budget. Of this amount, the city’s operating portion is $186,324,480, or 39.8%; the school’s operating portion is $203,660,107, or 43.5%; and other items (debt/capital for city and schools, regional entities, etc.) total $77,859,413, or 16.7%.
Bunting called the budget “austere.” Despite the third year of increasing real estate property values, gains have been slight. Bunting said she was able to provide for this year’s top budget priorities:
Bunting used a variety of tactics to balance the budget, including: internal efficiency, timing of multi-year commitments, and $1 million in targeted cuts to departments.
There were some recommended increases in user fees, made with the guidance of input from local residents in the city’s “I Value” budget input approach.
“We heard from more than 1,000 citizens about the recreational vehicle tax, EMS fee policy change and solid waste fee increase, as well as increased investment in our Police department. The vast majority of the public supported these changes,” said Bunting. “We also changed the way we compiled the Capital Improvement Plan this year and were able to get feedback from our residents on what Strategic Priority Projects were most important to them.”
The trash fee increase would cost a household 22 cents a week, or $11.44 a year. Recreational vehicles would be taxed below the regular personal property rate, at $1.50 per hundred of value. Bunting noted that: “Residents overwhelmingly supported charging co-pays both to protect the automatic mutual dispatching program with Newport News and to stabilize the EMS revenue source. To stabilize the funds for EMS, the city will begin charging co-pays.”
Other budget highlights include:
Bunting noted both uncertainty and positive signs for the future – a federal budget that could cut program funding but potentially boost military and shipyard spending; and economic growth. “On the positive side, we have seen real estate values continue to slowly recover, and several economic development projects are on the verge of getting up and running.”
She also warned that the city will face tough challenges again next year if growth doesn’t pick up: “We have also been able to transfer the Council Strategic Initiative funds in the capital budget to the operating budget to further our key priorities such as employee pay increases and public safety investments to fight crime. We will not be able to take these steps in future years, which could make budgets more challenging if revenue growth does not improve.”
Full copies of the recommended budget will be available in the city's libraries and online. City Council will hold public hearings April 26 and May 3.