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City begins talking budget—for the town

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By Tom Wilmoth

    Reversion is getting closer. Last week’s Bedford City Council meeting was certainly an indication of that.
    Bedford City Manager Charles Kolakowski presented what would become Bedford’s first town budget in more than four decades, once council weighs in, makes changes and ultimately approves it. As of July 1 Bedford will revert to a town, becoming part of Bedford County once again.
    “This proposed budget provides the financial resources necessary to fund community services, and includes funding for professional law enforcement, professional land use and economic development support, enjoyable parks, maintaining streets, innovative and supportive use of technology, efficient trash and recycling service, a school facility and reliable electric service,” Kolakowski stated in his remarks attached to the budget proposal.
    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.
    Kolakowski stated that while the city is still being impacted by the recession, there are indications of financial improvements in several areas. That includes some restoration of state funding at a local level and for transportation.
    He 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.”
    Bedford will continue to face challenges, including an aging infrastructure, he said. “The uncertain nature of our revenue projections, due to the changing tax base caused by reversion, is the most difficult of our challenges in formulating a budget,” Kolakowski stated.
    The proposed budget calls for a real estate tax rate of 25 cents per $100 of assessed value, but Kolakowski recommended that the budget be introduced with a 30 cent rate in order to provide for long-term stability. Currently city residents pay an 86 cent real estate tax rate. While town residents will have the lower town rate, they will have to pay the 50 cent real estate tax rate to the county as well.
    The proposed budget also calls for an increased charge on electric bills of less than 1 percent.
    The proposed general fund budget for 2013-2014 is $9.87 million, a decrease of $7.53 million from the current fiscal year. The primary reason for the decrease is a reduction made in budgeted funds due to reversion, including school operations, the sheriff, courts and other functions provided by the county.
    Highlights from the proposed general fund budget include $2.37 million reduction in general property taxes from the current year, a transfer of $1.3 million from the electric fund and a total capital outlay of $1.52 million.
    No increase in solid waste fees is proposed in the budget.
    “Reversion is bringing changes to how services will be provided and funded, but we are committed to try to make it a positive transition,” Kolakowski stated in his budget report to council.
    Council will hold a budget retreat this Thursday, May 2 at 5:30 p.m. in the community room at Liberty Lake Park. The public hearing for the proposed budget will be held on Tuesday, May 28 at 7 p.m. as part of the regular council meeting.