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Bedford City Council close to adopting budget—for the town

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By Tom Wilmoth and John Barnhart
news@bedfordbulletin.com

    With no residents showing up to speak at a public hearing on the proposed budget for the town of Bedford, which becomes a reality July 1 when the city officially reverts to a town, Bedford City Council is now ready to finalize the community’s first town budget in more than four decades.
    Following the short—and silent—public hearing, Council adjourned its meeting Tuesday night to resume Friday. At that meeting Council discussed some last details for the 2013-2014 budget, which includes $9.8 million in general fund expenditures.
    Council has advertised a town real estate tax rate of 30 cents per $100 of assessed value, though the current proposed expenditures are based on a 25-cent rate. Town residents, who currently pay an 86-cent real estate tax rate to the city, will also have to pay the Bedford County tax rate of 50 cents. But that combined rate will still be less than Bedford residents currently pay to the city.
    Just what the adopted tax rate for the town will actually be—it can’t be more than the advertised rate of 30 cents, but it can be less—was discussed at Friday’s meeting.
    Council plans to adopt its budget for the town at its June 11 meeting.
    The proposed budget includes a 1.15 percent salary increase for full-time city employees to cover the changes to the funding for the Virginia Retirement System, along with a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment.
    In his previous statement on the proposed budget presented to council, Bedford City Manager Charles Kolakowski said reversion will cause a number of changes from the city to town budget, in both revenues and expenditures, but believes the overall result will be positive. “The level of cooperation with the county has been extraordinary,” Kolakowski stated in his report. “There is a real commitment to make this work as well as possible and provide a positive outcome.”
    The proposed budget calls for an increased charge on electric bills of less than 1 percent.
    The 2013-2014 budget recommendation is $7.5 million less than the current fiscal year because of reductions in spending related to the reversion agreement, including not having to pay for school operations, the sheriff, courts and other functions provided by the county.
    Prior to adjourning the meeting, council passed a resolution recognizing Ruth Foutz Crouch for her service to the community.
    Crouch was noted for her decades of work in Centertown businesses as well as for her sewing and pie-baking skills. She made more than 200 a year, with many being donated to be used in fundraisers in the area.
    Crouch died April 29 at the age of 75. Prior to her death, Crouch sewed new patches on the uniforms of the Bedford Police Department in preparation for the city’s reversion to a town.

And at Friday’s meeting...

    Bedford City Council reconvened its meeting, Friday, and took one last look at what will be the town’s first budget. This is a budget that they will all have to live with as all of the current city council members, with the exception of Mary Flood, were elected to the new town council. Flood chose not to seek election.
    Jim Vest would like to add $5,000 to funding for Bedford Main Street and $1,000 for the Wharton Foundation. Mayor Bob Wandrei said that he will put this on the agenda for the June 11 meeting.
    Friday night, council had another discussion on the town real estate tax rate, which was advertised at 30 cents per $100 in assessed value. The tax rate won’t be official until City Council sets it when members adopt the budget.
    Steve Rush said that he would like to lower it to 27 cents. That met with opposition from other councilmen. Vest felt that it would be better to leave it at 30 cents and wait until next year before they consider lowering it.
    “I’d rather go with 30,” said Skip Tharp, who agreed with Vest. Tharp said that Bedford is currently facing too many unknowns and doesn’t want to “shear us too close.”
    C. G. Stanley also supported the 30 cent rate.
    “Once we get out of the first year we will have a better feeling for things,” he said.
    Wandrei, like the others, said he agreed with Vest.
    “We are not sure of everything that is going to happen,” he said. “I prefer to play it safe and stay with what we already have.”
    City Manager Charles Kolakowski told City Council that some adjustments were made to the general fund budget, including a $5,000 increase for the finance office. However, there was also a reduction in the amount budgeted for legal services. The net effect of the adjustments reduced the general fund by $8,900.
    Kolakowski also told City Council that he would like to look at contracting janitorial services to a private company. When the city still owned the schools in the city limits, it had enough staff available to cover somebody who was out. Now, there is no longer any flexibility to do that because there is a smaller pool of people to draw from.
    Kolakowski said that there are private companies that do this and one of these companies, with a work crew, will provide that needed flexibility. The money currently budgeted for salaries would be used to cover this. He said he’s currently getting quotes from companies for this work.