2012 Roanoke City Budget Less Painful

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by Valerie Garner

Fiscal year 2012 projected revenue for Roanoke City will be two percent above that of fiscal year 2011 totaling $258.6 million – a $6 million increase. If predictions are correct revenue stability will alleviate some painful budget decisions of the past.

The slight uptick in revenue will not get your leaves picked up this fall or bulk and brush collection returned to weekly pickup.  That is probably gone forever.

Bulk and brush collection remains on the same schedule –  every other week. The hotly debated bus schedule will do the same. Peak morning and late afternoon/evening runs will stay on a thirty-minute schedule for now.  The buses, however, will not carry students downtown unless the colleges want to pay for it.

TAP and Blue Ridge Behavior Health will be funded. The city has shrunk the government by 188 positions since the budget crunch began. Employees are working harder due to less staffing but are not getting a raise. City Manager Chris Morrill will advise city council if employees can get a one-time stipend in their next budget work session on May 9.

For downtown residents there will be no more free parking. Citizens were originally allowed to park two vehicles free which was then reduced to one vehicle, and having to pay for the second parking space.

Downtown dwellers with one car will now receive a 75 percent discount on parking garages and lots. Decals will be issued and on street parking will also be provided. Two cars get a much betterl and actually cost less than paying the old full price for the second vehicle which was $45 a month. Now citizens will pay $22.50 for two. If they have one vehicle it will cost them $11.25 for a space.

Council member Sherman Lea made a point that “this City Council has stepped up to the plate” in their extra funding for the schools. Director of Finance, Ann Shawver, said that even in tough city revenue times they were able to assist the schools by $3 million. “We are living up to our responsibilities,” she said.

Property taxes are up by five percent above forecast, as are sales and meals taxes.

Court Rosen asked about funding of the Budget Stabilization Reserve and Undesignated Fund balance. Shawver confirmed that $250,000 would be placed in both.

City Manager Chris Morrill bemoaned an increase in traffic signal sign changes mandated by the state. “It is another state unfunded mandate the city will have to pick up,” he said.

Maintenance of city facilities will be stepped up as well as sidewalk repairs.

Shawver cautioned that revenue could turn south quickly.

The area of concern is real estate taxes. This tax comprises 30 percent of the city’s revenue. Real estate valuations are falling throughout the region. At the time of a home sale the actual sales price is compared to its assessed value. The goal is that the assessed value is 95 percent of the sales price. Overall city adjustments to the assessed value of property would possibly bring Roanoke another revenue crisis.

With foreclosures and short-sales pressuring home values there is a very real possibility the city’s revenue could take a hit. Time will tell, said Shawver.

There will be a public hearing on the budget in council chambers on April 28 at 7:00 p.m. Then it will be back to council by May 6th. Adoption is expected on May 9 at the 2 p.m. session.

At the 7:00 p.m. council session on Monday School Board Chairman David Carson and School Board member Lori Vaught were reappointed for another term.