When Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones presents his fiscal year 2014 budget to the City Council in early March, it most likely will not feature an increase in the city meals tax. But some fines and permits could increase.
“We did meet with the restaurant community in January and I’d say they were pretty lukewarm to the prospect of a meals tax [increase],” said Leslie Beauregard, the city’s budget director. “It didn’t go over too great.”
The city is considering increasing parking fines and certain permits in order to bring the budget into balance without raising the city’s property tax rate from 95 cents per $100 of assessed value. That rate has been in effect since fiscal year 2008.
Projected expenditures in the new budget are $149 million. The plan also includes about $1.4 million in cuts. As of last Thursday, the revenues gap was $109,000, Beauregard said.
“This is still preliminary but we’re getting close,” Beauregard said.
The idea of a meals tax increase was floated last fall as a way to increase revenues to help the city schools close a multimillion-dollar deficit. Beauregard was ultimately directed to prepare a budget that did not include the meals tax increase, but was asked to gauge support.
Beauregard anticipated $187,000 in additional income from parks and recreation because of increases in admission fees and additional fees for adult sports leagues due to the opening of the Carver Recreation Center at the Jefferson School City Center.
Budget staff also is proposing an increase in the large-item pickup fee from $25 to $50 with additional fees for multiple permits.
Beauregard said that the proposed fee is still below what private companies charge.
Beauregard also expected an additional $600,000 in building permit fees due to increasing development.
Other revenue increases could come through increased parking fines. Currently, the fine for staying in a parking spot too long is $15.
Raising that to $20 could bring an additional $40,000 in revenue, Beauregard said.
City Councilor Dave Norris said the council should be wary of raising fines.
“I think we have to be mindful of the large number of people who work downtown who make a very modest hourly wage and for whom doubling the parking fine is going to be really onerous,” Norris said.
Proposed cuts include reducing intern staffing ($56,863) and eliminating an annual survey of employee job satisfaction ($15,000) and the city’s payment to the Greyhound Bus Station ($64,462).
“We don’t anticipate that Greyhound will pull out of here,” said Judy Mueller, the city’s director of public works.
Instead, Mueller said Greyhound likely would contract directly with the three long-term temporary employees who currently service the station. Greyhound owns the building on West Main Street.
The proposed budget sets aside $180,000 for a possible Human Rights Commission. That includes $90,000 in new funds, as well as $90,000 from the Dialogue on Race.
A public hearing on the tax rate and the budget is scheduled for April 1.
Kevin Rotty, an analyst with the PFM Group, urged the council to consider altering some of its policies to ensure it can maintain its AAA bond rating from both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. The rating saves the city millions of dollars because of lower interest rates.
Rotty said that Moody’s currently has a negative outlook on local governments in the U.S. and that Charlottesville is the only city in Virginia with a AAA rating that the agency does not currently have a negative outlook on.
“What a negative outlook says is that they don’t like the direction things are going, and there will be pressure to lower the rating,” Rotty said.
Rotty recommended that the city increase its fund balance, or reserve fund, from 12 percent to 14 percent, using the city’s economic downturn fund.