Listen to Charlie Kolakowski

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By John Barnhart

    Bedford City Council is now in the process of developing its last city budget. Next May Bedford will have to hold elections for a town council as required by the city’s reversion to town status, slated for July 1, 2013. I’m sure the reversion will take place as scheduled. The members of the Virginia Commission on Local Government seemed pleased with what they saw when they came to Bedford on May 14. They also noted that the sparse attendance at the public hearing they held shows that there is no groundswell of public opposition.
    So, it’s safe to say that City Council will cease to exist, and there’s no guarantee that current city council members will be elected to the new town council, although I’m betting that they will. Incumbents have generally run unopposed in Bedford and an incumbent has rarely been unseated. The next budget these folks develop will be a town budget. Bedford City Manager Charles Kolakowski anticipates that will be an easier project due to the improved financial picture that reversion will bring.
    In presenting this last city budget, Kolakowski is recommending that city council dip more deeply into the city’s reserves than he would normally recommend in order to balance the budget without a tax increase. Part of this is based on the fact that the proposed budget contains a number of one-time expenditures. Part of it is due to the improved financial picture the town is expected to have after reversion.
    City Council should listen to Kolakowski. He’s an experienced city manager who knows what he’s doing. He had a lot of municipal government experience before coming to Bedford and he’s been city manager here for six years. I don’t think he’s going to recommend a reckless course of action.
    They should also listen to him because the last thing that city residents and businesses need is a tax hike.
    Like everybody else in the area, Bedford’s taxpayers have taken hits from the economy. Everybody is paying more for food than they did last year. While gas prices have dropped a great deal in the last few months, people are still paying quite a bit to fill up their gas tanks.
    The economy is slowly improving but I wonder how many people have had any pay raises at all over the last five years? A lot of us, I’m betting most of us, in the private sector haven’t seen a pay raise for a long time. Some businesses have probably seen their revenue decline. In the meantime, we’ve seen what we have to pay for health insurance premiums go up. Businesses in the area are also getting beaten with this stick too. Those that offer health insurance as an employee benefit have also seen what they have to pay in order to do this go up and, unlike the government, they can’t simply demand more from their customers every time their costs go up.
    City electric customers are are also facing an increase in electric rates under the new budget. Kolakowski promises that city rates will be competitive with Appalachian Power rates after the state corporation commission approves its requested rate hike, and the power company will probably get what it’s asking for. The city really doesn’t have an option when it comes to electric rates What it has to pay for wholesale electricity has gone up and the city has already made cuts in the electric department’s operating expenses in other areas. It can’t just swallow that cost increase. The city is going to have to pass it on.
    But there is an option to raising taxes. Actually, there are two options to raising taxes. City council could also make deeper cuts in what the city spends. However, dipping into the city’s reserves this year, as Kolakowski recommends, is probably the easier, and more palatable option.
    Whatever Bedford City Council does as it develops the new budget, raising taxes is something that shouldn’t even be considered. Bedford’s residents don’t have bottomless pockets and they are taxed enough as it is. City Council ought not to demand more of them.