town hall

The town of Altavista will allow the public to weigh in on town spending and local taxes during the next year at its May 11 meeting.

Hearings on the Proposed Fiscal Year 2021-22 budget, proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) projects, taxes and water and sewer rate increases are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. in town hall. Town Manager Waverly Coggsdale said the budget hearing provides an opportunity for citizens to let the town know what they want and need from local government.

“Are we meeting the citizens’ priorities? Are they happy with the services they are getting? That’s what the public hearing is all about to me,” Coggsdale said.

Coggsdale said citizens could also approach council with input on projects that have been proposed for the coming year, or with ideas for projects, that council has not considered before.

Under the proposed budget, planned spending on Capital Improvement Projects currently totals $7,505,400, and planned operating expenses sit at $8,779,430.

In the town’s operating budget, $4,230,460 has been allocated for General Fund operations, $725,000 been allocated for the highway fund, which is similar to previous highway fund expenditures and includes costs for maintenance, repair, snow and ice removal and other services for local roads.

$3,745,820 has been allocated for the Enterprise Fund, which accounts for local water and sewer facilities. This total includes a surplus of $65,550. $78,150 has been allocated for the Cemetery Fund, which is used for the administration and maintenance of the cemetery.

The General Fund, which is primarily funded by property, meal and other taxes, encompasses the town’s day-to-day operations. Community Development expenses for the town, which includes wages for community development staff and operations costs related to the Main Street Program and Planning Commission, saw a jump in planned expenses from $151,000 in 2021 to $256,620 in 2022. Much of this increase comes as a result of the Spark Innovation Center and related costs.

Operational costs grew marginally from an adopted $3,902,060 in 2021 to $4,091,070 in 2022.

Overall personnel costs increased from an adopted total of $3,970,670 in the 2020-21 fiscal year to a proposed total of $4,101,310 in the 2021-22 fiscal year. Actual personnel costs in fiscal year 2021 are expected to top out at $3,684,244 however, several hundred thousand dollars lower than planned expenses.

Coggsdale explained that the town allocates the most money it could need for personnel in a given year and generally spends less than the adopted or proposed totals. Lower expenditures can usually be attributed to vacant positions.

Coggsdale said 0%-3% performance-based wage increases, and the change of a position from part-time to full-time, account for some of the increase in proposed spending on personnel this year.

“Typically, I think you’ll find if you keep the same employees year after year and you provide some mechanism, whether it’s cost of living or merit, your expenses are going up,” Coggsdale said about wage increases for town employees.

Most of the Enterprise fund is taken up by the high equipment, material and maintenance costs of operating water treatment facilities, and costs are relatively similar to previous enterprise fund expenditures, other than debt service costs related to needed infrastructure improvements.

An additional position has been proposed for the town’s wastewater treatment plant, which will be revenue neutral, due to the recent retirement of two long-time plant employees.

CIP expenditures slated for 2022 include $10,000 for new tablets for town council, $58,000 to paint the exterior of Avoca Museum, $25,000 for a new bus shelter and $54,020 for new tasers and a new vehicle for the police department. 

Other CIP projects planned for fiscal year 2022 include $124,000 for a restroom to be placed near the Eagle Trail parking area and $100,000 for shore stabilization along the Staunton River.

$896,830 are also set aside in the CIP fiscal year 2022 for public works items including a sidewalk replacement, a new street sweeper, several new trucks ranging in price from $50,000 to $160,000, and various other equipment and infrastructure upgrades.

The town council has also elected to set aside $1 million of the town’s reserve funds for the purpose of restoring the Vista Theater in the future. The town’s reserve funds are made up of previous surpluses, and will not affect taxpayers. Coggsdale likened the move to making a withdrawal from the town’s savings account.

It is unclear how much renovations to the theater will cost, as the project is still in an early planning phase, but Coggsdale said the town may need to withdraw more money for the project in the future.

Other CIP items, which will be funded with bond proceeds, include the McMinnis Water Line Project, and over $1 million in electrical improvements to the town’s wastewater treatment facility.

The current budget also includes 10% water rate increases for personal, business and industrial customers both in- and outside of town, including Hurt customers.

Sewer rates are also slated to see an increase across the board of 5%, based on 85% of customers’ consumption.

Customers would see increases in their water and sewer bills starting in 2022. Utility rate increases are planned for the 2022-23 fiscal year as well. Coggsdale said the rate increases, which gradually increase over a five-year period, are designed to pay off loans the town used for various water and sewer projects in about 20-25 years. This year’s rate increases are the fourth round of a five-year plan.

Real estate taxes under the current budget would remain at .08%, or 8 cents per $100 of value, and personal property taxes would remain at 2%, or $2 per $100 of value.

Coggsdale said any town residents who want to weigh-in on the budget can come to the public hearing next Tuesday in person, or send their comments ahead of time to jwcoggsdale@altavistava.gov . Coggsdale asked that anyone wishing to reach out about the budget via email do so by 5 p.m. on Monday, May 10 and include their name, address and comment, concern or question. Individuals will also be able to watch the budget hearing on the town’s website by clicking “departments” and then the “town meetings” section.