Waynesboro city council was presented with further recommendations on how to combat a more than $4 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2021 at its budget public hearing on Thursday evening.
City manager Mike Hamp said the proposed budget was “not gratifying,” but was necessary to combat coronavirus-related revenue losses.
“In March, staff presented a recommended budget that I would describe as solid, of good quality and it pursued the stated objective of council,” said Hamp. “That budget, however, was based on revenue forecasts that were developed before the arrival of coronavirus in the commonwealth.”
However, Hamp noted the priorities reflected in the original recommended budget — employee compensation, school funding, capital improvement investments and maintaining levels of service — have all been “deferred” to the objective of maintaining essential services instead.
“It simply was not and is not possible to meet the financial challenge of this magnitude without reductions to services and programs,” Hamp said. “We’re not glad to make these recommendations and some are in fact a departure from a strong tradition of vigorous fiscal stewardship and management. They are, nevertheless, justifiable and one-time measures, but not ones that our organization should aspire to or can afford to repeat.”
In a presentation by deputy city manager Jim Shaw, Shaw said he hoped the city’s revenue loss projections were “overly conservative.” The original FY21 budget was more than $53 million, a 2.6% increase over FY20, and has now been amended to a more than $50 million budget.
The city projects a 2.5% loss in real property, 5% to personal property, 10% to local sales tax, 25% to business licenses, 25% on transient occupancy tax, another 25% to meals, and a 5% loss in all other revenues — amounting to about a $4.2 million loss.
Proposed budget reductions include utilizing the revenue stabilization fund in the amount of $432,000, a lower amount than the city’s previous proposal of $500,000. In addition, the city has proposed level-funding schools $498,000, meaning the city would provide schools with the same revenue they received in the current fiscal year.
The proposed reductions also include deferring $1,350,000 in capital, eliminating a 3% raise for all employees amounting to a $354,000 savings, reducing street paving in the amount of $479,000 and departmental reductions totaling $951,000. Public safety is taking the largest departmental cut at $436,000.
“It’s spread across all of the public safety divisions — the fire department, the EOC and police department — the biggest share coming from the police department. Some of that will be vacancy savings. We know that there are going to be some vacancies in the police department, and we will hold positions until the police academy that starts hopefully in January 2021. As well, all of the departments offered up materials that they would have otherwise purchased whether it’s technology or materials in general,” Shaw said.
Other departmental budget cuts as proposed include reducing parks and recreation and the library by $401,000, community development by $163,000 and general government by $102,000.
The amended budget also calls for six furlough days for all employees in the general fund with an exemption for public safety workers and any employee that makes less than $15 an hour. If furloughs are implemented, it would be $138,000 in savings to the city.
Despite the projected revenue losses, there are still no proposed increases in water, sewer, stormwater utility or monthly refuse collections rates.
Thursday evenings public hearing only had one speaker, DuBose Egleston Jr., who submitted written comments in advance.
“I would like to suggest that the stormwater fee increase be extended to 4 years instead of the now proposed 2 years. My next suggestion is for all 17 department heads to have a reduction in salary of 5% or $1,000-$2,000,” said Egleston, who is currently running for the city’s Ward B seat. “This would be a morale booster for the rank and file employees knowing that supervisors have collectively sacrificed in this time of need.”
Waynesboro City Council is set to adopt the FY21 budget at a special called meeting for Thursday, May 14, at 7 p.m. Council will not meet on Monday, its regularly scheduled meeting date. The meeting will be held electronically and is viewable on government access television and the city’s YouTube channel.