Council seeks cuts to make up budget gap
By Blake Belden, Staff Writer
May 16, 2014, 12:09
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — The Colonial Heights City Council voted to impose budget cuts instead of raising tax rates during a first reading of the adoption of the General Fund Budget on Tuesday night.
With council members Joe Green and Kenneth Frenier dissenting, and John Wood absent from the vote, the council voted 4-2 to cut more than $77,000 in general fund expenditures rather than raise the property tax rate by two cents to compensate for a shortfall in revenue in the next fiscal year.
The shortfall was created as a result of the additional staffing of four new sheriff’s deputy positions (two full-time and two part-time positions) to account for increased security enhancements at the courthouse, costs which are projected to exceed $200,000 for next year.
The three largest cuts will be made to the departments of police, fire/EMS and public works, however City Manager Thomas Mattis stressed at a previous council meeting that the public safety sector receives the bulk of the general fund, therefore the budget cuts reflect this percentage.
Because the city has $120,000 in Courthouse Security Grant funding, which will be allocated toward these new positions, the budget was designed to fund the rest of the costs needed.
The grant money is only a one-time fund, therefore the operating costs to continue these positions in future years will require more spending from the city’s pockets, which led Frenier to believe that a new revenue source, not budget cuts, was the best way to make up that shortfall.
“We’ve put a Band-Aid on a wound that requires a tourniquet. ... We need to address it. It’s going to be a whole lot worse in the future,” Frenier said.
The council had previously proposed alternate measures such as raising the property tax rate by two cents or implementing a cigarette tax to generate the necessary revenue, however both were turned down by the majority of the council.
Councilman T. Gregory Kochuba supported the budget cuts, emphasizing the fact that it is such a small percentage of the overall budget, and expects that the food, sales and lodging taxes will demonstrate a turnaround in the coming years.
“I’m optimistic about the revenues. I’m optimistic that they will come back,” Kochuba said.
The $77,694 in spending reductions account for 0.14 percent of the more than $52.9 million in general fund expenditures in the budget.
Councilman Milton Freeland agreed with Kochuba, mentioning the fact that there will be several new establishments coming into the area through which to earn additional revenue including an IHOP, Firehouse Subs, Steak ‘N Shake, Aldi grocery store and the return of Golden Corral.
“I think if we can get through this tight budget constraint that we’re in right now, that we do have some sources of revenue coming in that hopefully will offset some of the cuts that we had to make and start regaining it in future years,” Freeland said.
Although Wood was not present for the vote on Tuesday, he had previously demonstrated that he favored tightening the budget over imposing higher taxes.
If the council adopts the General Fund Budget again following a second reading, the property tax rate will remain at $1.14 per $100.
Although the cigarette tax was shot down as a way to fund this specific shortfall, the council has not altogether given up on the possibility of it as a new revenue stream in the future.