Welcome to the Town of Bedford

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As of July 1, the change is official

By Tom Wilmoth

    Bedford residents woke up Monday morning to find themselves living in a town.

    The city of Bedford is gone; long live the Town of Bedford.
    The long-anticipated reversion of Bedford to town status took effect at midnight Monday with little notice. A few hours later, however, the city sign in front of the municipal building was replaced to officially mark the day.
    The five-year reversion process culminated Monday with the official change. Bedford residents now are a part of Bedford County; a few Bedford County residents now are also residents of the town.
    “We hope it will set the stage for improved educational opportunities and improved economic development activity,” stated Bedford Town Manager Charles Kolakowski.
     For Bedford residents the change means a lower real estate tax rate—from 86 cents to 80 cents (50 cents for the county; 30 cents for the town)—but for the new town residents who had previously been living in the county it will mean more to pay, with the additional real estate taxes assessed by the town.
    There will be a larger coverage area for the Bedford Police Department; and more trash to pick up for town crews. The county officially takes over the town’s rec department, but this will be done through a transition over the next several months.
    A new merged water authority exists; the registrar and commissioner of the revenue offices will all now be handled through the county. Bedford Elementary now belongs to Bedford County; so does the Welcome Center and Bedford Central Library. A new middle school  will  be   built   in   the Liberty Zone, its location yet to be determined.
    Bedford became an independent city in 1968; 45 years later it has now returned to its roots.
Bedford City Council
    Bedford City Council held its final meeting last Tuesday and had more business to take care of than usual. Most of that dealt with reversion issues.
    No one spoke at a public hearing involving the implementation of zoning for the new boundary areas for the town, which incorporates portions of Bedford County into the town. The new portions of the town were to be classified as part of the town zoning district most compatible to the previous county zoning.
    Action Tuesday also included establishing new boundary lines for the Bedford Elementary and Welcome Center property as well as conveying the school, center  and Bedford Central Library to the county. Over a 15 year period the county will pay the town $11.5 million for those buildings.
    Tuesday’s actions also included conveying the city’s water and sewer utility systems to the new Bedford Regional Water Authority.
    City Council also voted a new Business, Profession, Occupation License tax ordinance, to take effect Jan. 1, 2014, which eliminates many of the provisions for a tax based upon gross receipts and replaces it with a $30 annual fee. Council also voted to create a business license incentive program that exempts license taxes for six months for qualifying new businesses in the town.
    Also on Tuesday, Council approved an ordinance establishing the position of Deputy Treasurer for the town.
    One action taken, however, wasn’t directly related to reversion. Bedford Mayor Bob Wandrei took the opportunity to congratulate and thank Council member Mary Flood for her service on council. Flood chose not to run for a seat on the new town council.
    “I have really enjoyed being on council for these 18 years,” stated Flood. “I appreciate everything everybody has done to help me along.”
    Robert Carson will be the only new member on council. The new town council was scheduled to hold its organizational meeting Monday evening.
What’s in store for the Town of Bedford
    According to Kolakowski, much of what Bedford residents are used to won’t change. The courts, health department, social and  youth services, sheriff’s department and commonwealth’s attorney departments remain unchanged—operating as they always have. Bedford Central Library remains, but will now be owned by the county.
    The school system will have more dollars to work with—because for the next 15 years the county will be able to use Bedford’s more favorable local composite index in determining state funding for the schools—but the county now takes over complete control of the schools. Prior to reversion, the city had a contract with the county for it to provide school services for Bedford students. As part of the agreement, a new middle school will be built for Liberty Zone students. Until then, the county will lease Bedford Middle School from the town. The longer the county takes to build the new school, the more the county’s lease payments will be.
    Town residents, as residents of the county, will now be a part of either the District 6 or District 7 county election districts, with representatives on both the school board and board of supervisors.
    Curbside trash pickup will continue in the town; Bedford will continue to operate its electric utility service. About 40 county customers, now part of the town, will be incorporated into the trash pickup.
    The Bedford Police Department coverage area expands to include the area around Wal-Mart. Calls will certainly go up, but no new officers have been hired. Kolakowski said staff will watch just what effect those calls have on the department.
    “You are always looking at the staffing level to get that right balance,” he said.
    Utility and tax bills will be different for town residents. They will likely receive a separate bill from the county and the town; the water and sewer bill will arrive separately.
    Road maintenance for Bedford will continue to be the town’s responsibility.
    The town will employ fewer people; the budgeted positions for the year will be 32 fewer than the city’s final year. Many of those moved over to serve as employees with the new water authority. The town also eliminated a number of maintenance positions as a result of  reversion.
    Eating some meals out will be more expensive; the meals tax will go from 4 percent to 5 percent for businesses now included in the town, annexed in from the county as part of the first phase of boundary adjustments.
    Bedford is now bigger, adding just under two square miles to its borders under a first phase boundary adjustment. More county residents, and land, will be added in the future as part of the agreement. Much of the annexed property include areas east and west of the former city limits along U.S. 460.
    The county will assume the responsibility for overseeing the town’s recreation department. An association will be established to govern those efforts, bringing it in line with how the rest of the county’s recreation activities are set up. The town will employ one staff member for at least six months to help with the transition to the new association format.

How it happened
    Back in 2008 city council and city staff began the process of looking at the city reverting to town status. Instead of taking an adversarial route, the city sought to come to a voluntary agreement with Bedford County.
    This effort set off five years of meetings and negotiations between the two governments and their leaders. Much of the work took place behind closed doors; eventually an agreement was reached with both governmental bodies—Bedford City Council and the Bedford County Board of Supervisors—approving the agreement.
    Bedford is the third independent city in Virginia to revert to a town; the first to do so through a voluntary agreement. That was a key factor in the change; neither government wanted to go through an adversarial process. They achieved that through numerous closed-door sessions, hammering out the agreement. Neither side got all they wanted, but the eventual result was palatable to most.