Thursday, April 3, 2008


I’ve gone through the city budget and had some time to talk with members of the Boards of Supervisors in both Stafford and Spotsy to get their perspectives and approaches to their budgets especially as they related to the funding of regional and outside organizations. I’ve also chatted with our Superintendent of Schools, as well as members of the School Board, to get a handle on our school needs not only for this year but the next, and to make sure we all understand the current funding realities.

We are all still awaiting word from Richmond regarding the extent of additional revenue cuts from the state. This could be as much as $200,000 for the city budget and that would eliminate the proposed savings from the reductions in the Regional Jail budget after the amount for raises was reduced from 5% to 2.5%. Finally, the city’s cost for Workmen’s Compensation has gone up another $130,000.00. With everything balanced out we are still looking at a potential INCREASE in costs to the city.

Because we can expect the revenue picture to be tighter next year we do not want to increase the size of the operating budget. In fact, the current budget is less than last years. Nor should we use fund balance to cover operations. To do so would mean an even larger expenditure of fund balance next year just to maintain current spending levels. If we are looking at employee raises or programs this year the funds would need to come from the existing budget.

In regards to the Capital budget we must push back the construction of the court facilities as well as other projects that, while nice to have, can frankly wait a year or two to start. The focus should be on core services such as public safety—bridge rehabs and fire equipment.

As I have said these next two years the focus of the budget should be on core services, which includes education. This year I would like to see city employees get at least a Cost of Living raise and if possible make sure we do not loose any of the ground gained last year regarding teacher salaries. The latter goal will be influenced by the actions taken by neighboring jurisdictions regarding their funding decisions on their school budgets.

The possibility of achieving these goals gets harder each passing day. Further, reductions in the city’s operating budget will get into employee, and level of service, reductions.

One possible solution is to either pass on, or not cover; the state cuts as they relate to the Constitutional Officer’s budgets. Frankly I’m getting a bit tired of the political cowardice of our state representatives passing on costs to localities and claiming they are holding the line on taxes. Also, we have asked the City staff to go through the budget again for possible savings and I would hope our Constitutional Officers are doing the same.

Finally, we need to review the budgets for Outside Agencies. To fund those that provides a needed service at the same levels as the City budget—no new programs and either no or limited raises. Our neighboring jurisdictions are going thru the same process.

Contrary to what some are saying our situation is not unique-- we are in the same financial boat as most jurisdictions in the state. And while we are facing some tough choices we are in better shape than most. The proposed tax rate is at the lower end of what have been proposed by most area jurisdictions except for Stafford, which is now faced with significant cuts in staff and services. And unlike most jurisdictions we have some commercial projects coming on line, which will ease the burden on City taxpayers.

My one concern as we go through the next two years is that, like the early 80’s, city leaders will go back to a bunker mentality-- doing nothing while waiting for the next downturn. We need to continue to both protect and enhance our City’s unique character and quality of life and ensure we have a tax base diversified enough so we don’t have to face these challenges again in the future.

Questions, comments, and suggestions appreciated.


Bryan said...

Many of us in the commercial world are only receiving COLA increases this year (if that). Almost every business that uses performance based raises bases their "average" raise on COLA, with some getting less or none, and only a few getting more than that.

Could we look at funding the startup work on the courts? Moving the post office out, engineering, environmental studies, architectural design - all of the stuff that doesn't cost that much, so that next year we'd at least be 1/2 a step closer to the completed project? Or is it an all-or-nothing type project?

You probably saw my post about delaying the city's capital outlay on the cal ripken fields until after heavy construction is done.

I was surprised to see the article today that Stafford chose to keep their taxes level. That's going to mean a lot of tough choices in their core services.

I hate to point it out, but you know, city residents do get more services than surrounding area. I expect to pay a little bit more because of that. The real estate agents should have an easy sell on getting people to move into the city based on our tax level and services. Especially with rising gas prices. Glad to see we've got some creative developments on the horizon, can't wait to see what the next group is going to be (I vote for the river park)

JStier said...

I would like to see the budget priorities given to a raise for teachers and first responders (firefighters and police). These need to be our first priority as we need quality teachers to create quality schools. We need to pay our police and firefighters well in order have the best community health possible. Together those three community services and the quality of life that they create will attract people to choose to buy homes in Fredericksburg rather than Stafford and Spotsylvania. City employees should come next as they are critical to the day to day, behind the scenes work that enhances our quality of life.

Non-profits may need to take a cut. The private sector (through fundraising) will step in and give as they see that those charities need help. I don't want to see any money cut but like in a household budget, that which we can't do without is paid first and that which we don't have to have to survive gets cut back. These are not easy choices, but choices that need to be made.