Roanoke City Council Notes

by Valerie Garner

Barely a quorum was present for Monday’s Roanoke City Council briefing and 2:00 p.m. council meeting. Once when Councilman Court Rosen left the dais the meeting was halted until he returned. Council members Sherman Lea, Bill Bestpitch and Dave Trinkle were on vacation.

Council amended the city code to coincide with the General Assembly’s Senate bill 757 introduced by Senator Roscoe Reynolds. The bill removes a locality’s authority to regulate air guns. It passed unanimously in the House and the Senate in the 2011 session.

At the previous Council meeting the amendment was tabled so a resolution could be drafted to express “extreme displeasure” in putting law enforcement and the public’s safety at risk.

The bill states that pneumatic guns are allowed to be discharged on private property with permission of the owner when discharge is conducted with reasonable care to prevent a projectile from crossing the bounds of the property.

Councilman Court Rosen said since there were only four council members present he would reluctantly vote for the amendment. He said, “they complain about the federal government overreaching, then turn around and force mandates on localities.”

Councilman Ray Ferris said he was not against gun ownership but he comes to council “with a lawyers perspective … we have no choice – to leave the city’s code inconsistent with state code would be irresponsible.”

The resolution called for repeal of the legislation.

Line of Duty Act:

Line of Duty Act responsibility has shifted from the state to localities. The death benefit in the line of duty is $100,000 and $25,000 within five years of separation.

Andrea Trent, assistant director of finance, explained the recommendation to self-insure and opt out of the VRS system. The benefit does not change. Coverage is for 730 employees in law enforcement, the fire department and the sheriff department.

“We can budget for an amount and keep it in our own bank,” said Director of Finance Ann Shawver.

Smaller localities with less risk exposure are opting out of VRS including Roanoke County, Lynchburg and Danville. The deadline to opt out is July 22 and a locality can’t elect back in. The finance department will establish a fund strategy for estimating liabilities.

May Financial Report:

As of May 2011 revenue was 1.9 percent above fiscal year 2010. However, revenue in fiscal year 2010 declined 2 percent from 2009. Expenditures were 3.3 percent less than fiscal year 2010. May’s financial results showed an increase in real estate revenues primarily due to new construction but Ann Shawver director of finance was cautious.

With real estate sales data indicating foreclosures and short sales, Shawver remains cautious as some are anticipating downward pressure on home values. Real estate taxes comprise 30 percent of the city’s revenue. A one-percent reduction of the real estate tax would be a substantial blow, reducing revenue by about $800,000.

Councilman Ray Ferris mentioned he has seen many real estate transactions below assessed value. Shawver said that foreclosures put downward pressure on pricing and unemployment remains high.

Sales tax increased 2.4 percent from the previous year but could come in at 2 percent for fiscal year 2011 due to the loss of Walmart. The meals and lodging taxes are up.

Council lamented the loss of Walmart to Roanoke County and Shawver admitted the sales tax figures would have been stronger if Walmart was still in the city. However, she anticipates Kohl’s Department Store will take up some of the slack. Kohl’s is expected to open in October.

School Board Appointment:

Richard “Dick” Willis was chosen out of seven applicants for the Roanoke City School Board. Willis will replace Jason Bingham who resigned effective June 30 due to a promotion and increased job responsibilities requiring extensive travel.

Willis is a systems engineer for the Roanoke-based software company SoftSolutions.


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