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Council begins work on budget

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Proposal calls for real estate tax rate to remain the same; electric rates to go up

By Tom Wilmoth

Bedford Town Council got to work this week dissecting a proposed budget from town staff that raises electric rates by 2 percent, but leaves real estate property taxes at its current rate.
    Town Manager Charles Kolakowski presented his budget to council last week and work on it was scheduled to begin in earnest by council yesterday during a work session.
    The proposed general fund budget for 2014-2015 is $8.02 million, a decrease of just over $2 million from the current fiscal year. This primary reason for the decrease is a reduction made in budgeted funds due to reversion.
    The budget includes a 1.15 percent salary increase for full-time town employees covered by the Virginia Retirement System, as part of the commonwealth’s mandated shift to employees pension payments being paid directly from the employees. The proposal also calls for a 2 percent cost of living adjustment for town employees.
    “The town revenue sources appear to be stable, but still subject to economic trends at the state and national level,” Kolakowski stated in his budget message. “We will continue to carefully evaluate the municipal services provided to our citizens to ensure that we are as efficient as possible in the delivery of those services.”
    Kolakowski stated that the cooperation with the county in working through the reversion process has been “extraordinary.”
    “There is a real commitment to make this work as well as possible and provide a positive outcome,” he stated. “The staffs at both the county and town are working together to achieve positive results.”
    Among the challenges facing the town is an aging infrastructure, Kolakowski stated. Uncertain revenue levels from the state and local sources provide some concern, he added. “On the positive side though is the increased level of economic activity which seems to be occurring in the area,” he stated. “A number of small businesses are opening and a few larger industries are doing well and are hiring again. We continue to work diligently with the county to encourage this to continue.”
    The proposed budget leaves the town’s real estate tax rate at 30 cents per $100 of assessed value. The BPOL tax has been replaced by a flat fee of $30 in an effort to encourage businesses to locate and stay in town.
    The proposed budget includes a $1 per month increase in solid waste charges, but eliminates the $4 per month recycling charge. Kolakowski said the proposal is to do away with curbside recycling and rely on drop-off centers for this.
    The 2 percent proposed increase in electric rates—which would mean an extra $3 per month to the average customer—is to cover increased transmission costs and other additional expenses, he said. “This increase will still keep us at or below other area providers who are also increasing their charges,” he noted.
    There is a proposed transfer of $1.3 million from the electric fund to the general fund.
    The total proposed electric fund budget is $20.43 million, a decrease of $2.8 million from the current year. “We are feeling the effect of increased energy and energy transmission costs. This is impacting coal generation in particular,” Kolakowski stated.
    The proposed solid waste budget is $757,007, down almost 10 percent from last year, because of a reduction in debt payment.
    “The proposed budget provides funding to maintain our core programs and activities,” Kolakowski stated.
    He expressed appreciation to service groups who are providing services to town residents. “Reversion is bringing changes to how services are provided and we are committed to make them positive changes. Be assured the staff will be preparing for all eventualities,” Kolakowski stated.
    A number of outside groups have made budget request proposals to town council over the past two council meetings.
    A public hearing on the town budget will be held Tuesday, March 11 at 7 p.m.