Proposed city budget fills $33 million hole while raising trash fee and employee salaries

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VIRGINIA BEACH —  Residents will pay more for trash service and public employees will get a 3 percent raise under City Manager Dave Hansen’s proposed budget for next fiscal year.

The $1.9 billion spending plan also calls for the city and school district to add a combined 202 positions, many of them in education and law enforcement, as the city’s financial planners begin “to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” according to Budget Director Catheryn Whitesell. The real estate tax rate does not change under the proposal.

Staff had been wading through a projected deficit of $33 million in the upcoming budget — something that prompted then-City Manager Jim Spore to freeze hiring city-wide in September — but Whitesell told reporters Tuesday they’ve worked through it. Partly by luck and partly by design, the city has found enough cash to fill the gap without a tax hike, she said, adding she expects the hiring freeze to lift completely soon.

Hansen’s proposed $1.9 billion budget, which still needs City Council approval, raises a single major bill for residents: The solid waste fee, which would grow to $23 per month from $21.36.

Waste Management ended the 2015 fiscal year with a negative balance of $4.5 million, Whitesell said, adding the department has cut 22½ positions and held off purchasing equipment, like dump-trucks, to make ends meet during the recession.

“It just couldn’t make it another year without a slight increase,” she said of the monthly fee.


To view your unofficial “tax receipt” through a new city program, click here.


The proposed budget includes no tax hikes, Whitesell said.

“This is really the first budget in the last seven years which reflects revenue growth without major tax increases,” Hansen told the City Council.

The projected deficit was offset with savings of $10 million from the hiring freeze; $8.5 million from a surprise reduction in pension liability; $3 million from lower gasoline and asphalt prices; and gleanings from lower bond sale rates, Whitesell and a summary of the budget said.

Also helping are rising property values, which will increase revenue by $2.3 million, she said.

Instead of a cutting employee raises as anticipated in November, the city will be able to give raises of 3.34 percent to full-time employees and 1.34 percent to part-timers under Hansen’s proposal.

Hansen told the City Council he might be able to lift the hiring pause by May 1. Since it was implemented in the fall, the city has averaged 355 vacancies, which have combined to save $10 million. Before the freeze, the city employed 6,328 full-time and 639.04 part-time workers, according to a summary of the proposed budget. The city will go to 6,365 full-time and 663.03 part-time employees under Hansen’s proposal.

Whitesell said that “with that small rate adjustment from the solid waste program,” staff members feel they are in a good place for the next fiscal year “and hopefully into the future.”

Other budget highlights include:

  • The hiring of a fourth deputy city manager to oversee emergency response departments.
  • A total budget increase of 2.1 percent ($39.5 million), which equates to a decrease of 0.7 percent when adjusting for population growth and inflation.
  • 202 new positions, including 28 police officers and sheriff’s deputies, one EMS recruiter, 36 teachers, 91 other school employees and 51 workers at a reopened Kempsville Recreation Center.
  • Funding for 23 new buses and 75 new bus shelters
  • Partial expansion of all-day kindergarten.
  • The opening of the Entrepreneurship and Business Academy at Kempsville High School.
  • Moving the Strategic Growth Areas and Agriculture departments into the Planning Department.
  • The return of the Resort Management Offices to the Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • A reduction in staffing for the city’s information line — 311 —  from 16.5 hours every day of the year to 12 hours on weekdays.
  • $303.4 million for schools, roads, buildings and other capital improvement projects.
  • 110 body cameras for police officers. This is the first of four years the city will purchase cameras until it reaches 450.

The City Council is expected to vote on the budget May 10 after two public hearings. Those hearings are scheduled for 6 p.m. April 21 at Cox High School and 6 p.m. April 26 in the City Council chambers.

To view — and virtually manipulate — department budgets and city expenditures with a new interactive city budget program, click here. Results and recommendations will be viewable by city staff, but the program is largely for educational purposes, Whitesell said.

Have a story idea or news tip? Contact City Hall reporter Judah Taylor at Judah@SouthsideDaily.com or 757-490-2750.

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