Council Recap: Budget passes first hearing

Alex Sirney -- April 27th, 2010

The city budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year passed its first public hearing unanimously and without public comment Tuesday night.

The proposed budget is slightly more than $1 million less than the proposed budget from 2009-2010, though City Manager Kurt Hodgen spoke of the city’s determination to maintain the same level of service despite reductions in local revenue and state funding.

The budget includes a rate increase for water and sewer services by $0.73 per 1000 gallons and the water conservation rate by $0.08 per 1000 gallons. The minimum bill increase will be $2.07 per month, or $4.05 per month for a 5000 gallon customer.

The budget also includes sharp cuts to capital projects and continues last year’s pay freeze for city employees. It leaves vacant 10 positions that have not been filled.

One concern Hodgen raised is that, while the budget meets current needs, equipment and infrastructure needs cannot continue to be deferred indefinitely.

Other notable actions:

  • Council unanimously passed a motion giving the city manager’s office authority to execute a contract with Perry Engineering to move forward with Phase II of the Stone Spring/Erickson Ave. project, pending final approvals. Perry Engineering is the current contractor for Phase I.
  • Council unanimously passed a motion amending the city code to give the city manager’s office authority to transfer money from the General Fund without bringing the matter before council. The General Fund is the only fund for which the city manager’s office did not have this authority. Mayor Kai Degner asked that council be apprised of any significant transfers, however.
  • Harrisonburg’s S&P bond rating has been upgraded from A+ to AA-. Council was advised of opportunities for calling outstanding bonds and issuing new ones. The finance committee is reviewing the information, and any action would require a public hearing.
  • Mike Layman of First Tee of Harrisonburg asked council to consider allowing Heritage Oaks to accept donations from local businesses that would allow an all-grass practice area and driving range to be developed. Council is considering the proposal it in the context of its long-range plans.
  • Degner reported that the mediation addressing the animal control contract is moving forward.
  • Councilman Dave Weins was absent due to illness. The next city council meeting will be May 11.

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10 Responses to “Council Recap: Budget passes first hearing”

  1. Lindsay says:

    I still don’t get why those of us who use less water have to pay a minimum monthly bill that is significantly higher than our actual usage, and especially now, why that minimum bill is going up by $2.07 a month. I understand there are baseline operating costs, but this seems like straight up cash out of my pocket for services not rendered. How ’bout some incentive for water conservation? Wish I had paid closer attention beforehand that the hike was being proposed. Done deal, now. I guess I break even for this year at least since I got a good deal from the City on my rain barrel… so I could pay more for the water I’m not using? :-/

    • Alex Sirney says:

      It’s not a done deal yet – there will be another public hearing at the next council meeting. It’s very close to a done deal, but you can definitely make yourself heard and hopefully get an answer at council on May 11.

      • Lindsay says:

        Great – thanks. Glad there is still a chance for further consideration. I remember a few years ago it came up on this blog and Charlie Chenualt was kindly going to look into it at the time, but that’s the last I heard. Would be good to raise the question again with the current group. Of course I will sound like a bit of a heel vying for my $2.07/mo amidst widespread budget crises. I think what the increase communicating is significant, though, particularly when the bill actually says things like Harrisonburg is under voluntary water conservation and then I owe the same as the guy down the street power washing his blacktop driveway in July.

  2. JGFitzgerald says:

    Up to a point, you’re paying for infrastructure: maintenance on the current system and construction of new water lines. That affects the minimum.

    • Lindsay says:

      I asked our stellar Public Information Officer about the higher-than-usual water/sewer increases this year. She already got back to me with plenty of helpful information about the rates, including:

      “Both the Water and Sewer Authority rates are scheduled to increase annually to ensure our revenues are keeping pace with associated expenditures. This year the increase in the sewer authority rate was higher than initially planned because of additional expenses associated with the expansion and upgrades (part of the Chesapeake Bay clean up and mandated by the Clean Water act) of the HRRSA facility.”

      Also, regarding the existence of a set minimum water bill:

      “There is a minimum cost (debt, infrastructure, personnel etc) to the city to provide water and it is in that minimum bill that the cost is covered. In other words, part of it can be thought of as a “provider fee.” The actual expense of providing the services cannot simply be covered by a per unit rate.

      The water rate is also applied to ensure that we can continue to fund our 30” raw water line, 17 miles in length, which will provide additional water resources and provide the City and County a redundant source of surface water in the event of a drought.”

      Thanks, Miriam!

  3. Parent says:

    A staggered rate for usage numbers would seem to be equitable, if ordinances for usage are not enforced.

  4. Thanh says:

    I wanted to remind everyone that the Comprehensive Plan review meetings start tomorrow. More info at: http://www.harrisonburgva.gov/compplan

    “The Comprehensive Plan presents a vision of what kind of community the City would like to be in the future. It identifies the steps required to move toward that vision by providing information about the City’s current conditions, long-term goals and objectives, and recommended implementation strategies. As described in the Code of Virginia, the Comprehensive Plan shall be general in nature; Harrisonburg’s Plan addresses a wide range of issues including land use, housing, education, transportation, recreation, the preservation of historic and natural resources, and economic development. The Plan serves as a long-term guide for the community and it helps city leaders make decisions about the many issues that occur throughout the governance of our city.”

    * Thursday, April 29th – Land use and Transportation
    – Chapter 5 Land Use and Development Quality
    – Chapter 6 Neighborhoods & Housing
    – Chapter 11 Transportation

    * Wednesday, May 5th – Natural Resources and Community & Safety Issues
    – Chapter 9 Natural Resources
    – Chapter 10 Parks & Recreation
    – Chapter 12 Community Facilities, Services, Safety & Health
    – Chapter 13 Economic Development & Tourism

    * Thursday, May 13th – Cultural Resources and Revitalization
    – Chapter 7 Education, Arts & Culture
    – Chapter 8 Historic Resources
    – Chapter 13 Economic Development & Tourism
    – Chapter 14 Revitalization

    * Wednesday, May 19th – Housing and Collaboration
    – Chapter 6 Neighborhoods & Housing
    – Chapter 12 Community Facilities, Services, Safety & Health
    – Chapter 15 Community Engagement & Collaboration

  5. Thanh says:

    It starts at 7pm and goes until 9pm. Folks should anticipate participating through the entire time. More information is at the weblink provided earlier. :)

    • Thanh says:

      Sorry. Clarification: I made a mistake and meant to reply to Seth’s question about the Comp Plan meeting times (not to the general thread).

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