City manager: Fiscal picture puts Waynesboro’s future as city in question
Waynesboro City Manager Mike Hamp is telling City Council that it needs to raise the city property-tax rate eight cents to balance the budget, and that even in doing so the city won’t be out of the woods in future budget years given the decline in the city’s industrial sector.
“The organization’s current, near term, and long term ability to generate sufficient revenue to provide core municipal services, make appropriate investment in economic and community development, and build ‘rainy day’ reerves requires intelligent and deliberate examination,” Hamp said in his budget message to City Council delivered on Monday.
To Hamp, the examination “leads inevitably to the conclusion that sufficient revenue is not available. Consequently, the services and functions of our local government must be reduced by elimination or curtailment perhaps to the point of requiring some form of government other than a City of First Class,” Hamp said.
Waynesboro’s neighbors to the west in Staunton publicly considered reversion to town status back in the 1990s. The reversion would have returned Staunton into Augusta County, which would have assumed responsibilities for administration of courts and public schools.
That talk triggered discussions among Staunton, Waynesboro and the county aimed at looking at areas of service delivery where the three could better coordinate along regional lines. Those discussions resulted in an agreement on a new regional landfill, but stopped well short of substantive movement in areas including administration, courts, public safety and schools.
“Local revenues are of primary concern currently and for the future of our community,” said Hamp, noting a forecasted $969,000 decrease in property-tax collections at the current 70-cent property-tax rate in addition to a projected $296,000 reduction in machinery and tools tax revenues resulting from the continued decline in the city’s industrial sector.
To make up for the shortfall, Hamp is suggesting an increase in the property-tax rate to 78 cents, a hike of 1 percent in lodging and meals taxes, a four-cents-per-pack push in the tax on cigarettes and a $5 increase in dog licenses.
Hamp noted in his budget message that the city has been able to balance its budget in recent budget years through the elimination of positions from the city-government payroll, suspending pay raises for city employees and limiting expenditures related to equipment and vehicle replacement and building maintenance and security.
“The expenditure reductions recommended and enacted in previous budgets should not be considered appropriate permanent budgetary measures because of their long term detrimental impacts to employees, the organization, and the community,” Hamp said. “Reliable motor equipment, vehicles, and technology are essential to a productive service organization. Repair and maintenance of the community’s physical assets (roads, sidewalks, service facilities, pools, infrastructure) are essential to the financial position and economic vitality of the organization. Well trained employees who are appropriately compensated and supported by the organization are essential to service delivery.”
The bottom line from Hamp will be fuel for some soul-searching discussions in the coming weeks.
“In short, the message today is that in my opinion, the municipal organization does not generate sufficient revenue to operate our municipal government in its current form, sustain current service levels, make reasonable and necessary capital investments, or grow our financial reserves.”
Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at email@example.com.