Kilmarnock’s budget worksession on Monday featured surprising agreements on scrutinized line items and continued vocal opposition to the new town hall from the mayor.
The budget for fiscal year 2014, as presented by Assistant Town Manager Susan Cockrell, projected $2,934,462 in revenues and $2,615,216 in expenses with a surplus of $319,246 available for capital projects.
The proposed budget accounted for a drop in revenues of $93,373 from the current year. The decrease is due mainly to a lower real estate assessment, which is down $40 million, and sales tax repayments to Lancaster County.
Restructuring of the debt and internal cost control by the town drove down operating expenditures by roughly $220,000.
Cockrell explained that tax rates for water and sewer and Real Estate are to remain unchanged, and that the budget will account for a 3 percent wage increase for town employees across-the-board.
Councilmember Howard Straughan clarified the change as an increase in the salary line item, noting that it did not mean each employee would get a 3 percent pay raise.
According to the presentation, Kilmarnock would begin the year with $5,170,858 in total town funds and fall to $4,395,103 by fiscal year 2015.
The decrease was attributed to an anticipated net loss of $775,755, which will be covered by savings from fiscal year 2013.
The shortage initially amounted to $1,266,938 in “withdrawals” for funding daily operations and capital infrastructure, including an approximate $800,000 for purchasing and renovating the Bay Trust Property on 1 North Main St.
But Cockrell and Town Manager Tom Saunders estimated $491,183 in operating surpluses that would reduce the deficit.
Councilmember William Smith said the town would have seen a slight increase in fiscal year 2014 had they not chosen to purchase the Bay Trust building for the new town hall.
“That’s correct,” Cockrell replied. “Or you could say that for $775,000 [out-of-pocket], we’re going to get 1 North Main and we’re going to do some other capital projects.”
Other budgeted items for the withdrawal include $100,000 for funding the physical plan of Kilmarnock’s technology park, $171,938 for the operating sewer fund, $175,000 in water and sewer capital projects and $20,000 for streets and parks.
Following the presentation, changes to a line item under the general fund for public service support inspired a rare consensus between Councilmember Rebecca Nunn and Mayor Raymond Booth.
Nunn initially proposed increasing the budgeted amount from $10,000 to $13,000 and then giving money from the line item to the Kilmarnock Volunteer Fire Department, the Kilmarnock-Lancaster Volunteer Rescue Squad, the town museum and the public library.
Smith contested Nunn’s recommendation.
“I have a big issue when we as public servants start picking and choosing who we’re going to donate money to and who we’re not,” said Smith. “When we are giving away the citizen’s money, we are basically telling them which organizations they should support.
“I think if we’re going to do that, we probably need to call it something different, because who’s to say the Northern Neck Free Health Clinic or the Boys and Girls Club are not worthy of money?” Smith added.
Nunn countered that if Kilmarnock didn’t have a volunteer fire department and rescue squad, then it would cost the town “millions of dollars.”
“We would have to pay their salaries and give them benefits,” said Nunn.
She added that while the free health clinic and Boys and Girls Club were important, most of the town’s citizens used the museum and library.
Nunn was visibly surprised when Mayor Raymond Booth agreed to support her proposal.
“From my perspective, I believe the fire department and rescue squad represent the most essential services that are provided,” said Booth, adding that if Kilmarnock were to create its own fire department, the town would have to pay “well over a million dollars.”
Council agreed to recommend increasing public service support to $38,000, which includes a contribution to Rappahannock General Hospital at the bidding of Vice Mayor Emerson Gravatt.
It is important to note that Gravatt serves as the hospital’s Director and Vice President of Human Resources.
At the end of the meeting, while Booth complimented council for not raising tax rates, he did not see the 16 percent decrease as a tax reduction.
“The tax rate has not changed. The value of [Kilmarnock properties] is simply less,” he said. “It also shouldn’t be…depicted as a tax decrease as well.”
He also continued to denounce council’s purchase of the Bay Trust property in comments that Nunn claimed was “a campaign speech.”
“I’m most troubled by the fact that the whole amount [of the 775,755 in net losses] is the purchase of the new town hall,” said Booth. “It seems that this new town hall purchase is not supported by the overwhelming majority of our citizens [and] business.”
Booth added: “I think by building something [or] renovating [the current town hall property] and saving $450,000 of that $800,000, we could significantly close the shortfall in this budget.”
Nunn stressed that council already voted twice in favor of the property, once to go through with the purchase and the second time to approve the contract.
“It is over and done with,” she said. “It’s not going to change. We’re going to buy the building.”