Job, school-funding, City Council salary cuts highlight Waynesboro budget

City employees are doing more than their share. The Waynesboro school system could take a significant hit. Two City Council members are foregoing their salaries for 2009-2010. City Hall is buckling down in the face of declining revenues due to the ongoing economic downturn.

“As challenging as the circumstances are for employees, they are no less challenging for you elected officials,” said City Manager Mike Hamp, who on Friday presented Council with his proposed $39.4 million general-fund budget for 2009-2010, which cuts general-fund spending a few dollars short of $750,000 from 2008-2009, freezes or eliminates 16 full-time positions and includes a mandatory two-day furlough for all full-time classified employees.

Lorie Smith made the first big news of the City Council budget season, saying she will forego her $5,100 salary for ’09-’10 “in an effort to share the burden.” “This is a decision that may cause hardship for my family, but it is one that we feel is appropriate,” Smith said of the move. “As I look around and see Invista employees being laid off and some taking significant cuts in pay, newspapers furloughing employees, businesses closing such as Valley Building Supply and our city employees sacrificing, I choose to lead by example.”

City Councilwoman Nancy Dowdy quickly joined Smith in the salary move. “We’ve moved forward in addressing issues for the city. We moved forward with putting in place some infrastructure and addressing issues, and it seems like because of the economic downturn that we’re having to put a stop on many of those things. Having said that, I’ve always thought the most valuable asset the city has is our employees and our people, and I’ve never been prouder than this morning in the presentation of this budget to understand that when the rubber meets the road, and we all need to buckle down and address the issues before us, every employee in this city has done what they needed to do,” Dowdy said.

Vice Mayor Frank Lucente later praised the women for agreeing to return their City Council salaries to the general fund and noted that he plans to donate his City Council salary in 2009-2010 to charity, as he said he has done in past years. The statement to that effect is not verified independently of Lucente making it known today.

Lucente made news a litte later in the City Council meeting with his proposed three-cent tax-rate decrease that would equalize what the average city property owner would pay in taxes in consideration of the average 6 percent property-value reassessment this year. That move would require an additional $600,000 in spending cuts on top of the $750,000 in cuts included in Hamp’s proposed budget. The difference would be made up in the Lucente proposal by breaking the agreement between City Council and the School Board to split the growth in audited city revenues 50-50, which Lucente tried to sell as being a favor to the school year anticipating that the audited revenues on which next year’s school funding would be based could lead to a shortfall for the school system.

The news in terms of the response to the Lucente proposal is that Mayor Tim Williams doesn’t appear to be on the same page with his ideological ally. “No one up here wants to cut taxes more than I do. But at this point, in light of what I’ve heard today, I can’t say that I’m in favor of the tax-equalization rate or against it,” Williams said. “There are some questions that we’re going to have to deal with the next few weeks. In light of that, since I haven’t agreed to a 67-cent rate, really, to me, it’s the School Board’s decision. It’s up to them to initiate this.”


– Story by Chris Graham

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