BRISTOL, Va. — Bristol Virginia City Council is scheduled to set the tax rate at a called meeting tonight that also includes a public hearing.
The city’s proposed 2021-22 general fund budget is based on a real estate tax rate of $1.12 per $100 of assessed value, which is down from the current $1.17. While that is a reduction, many property owners would pay more because real estate values citywide rose an average 9% during a just completed reappraisal. Termed an “effective tax increase,” it is forecast to generate about $320,000 more revenue for the city.
Access to City Hall is limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the public will be allowed to comment to the council regarding the tax rate prior to the vote. Mayor Bill Hartley said anyone who wants to send comments but not attend may contact the city clerk by phone or email.
City Council members appeared generally receptive Tuesday upon getting their first look at the city’s proposed $69.35 million city spending plan.
It includes a $54.88 million general fund budget that is about $3 million more than the current fiscal year, a $6.4 million solid waste budget and $6.5 million in capital projects, funded primarily by the state and federal government. The city is expected to receive an additional $1.1 million from the state, nearly $900,000 from the federal government and an extra $1.03 million in local revenues.
The accompanying school system budget is $41.2 million, making the total proposed annual operating plan $110.55 million.
“They put a lot of work into a budget in the middle of a year with a lot of uncertainty to it,” Hartley said after Tuesday’s meeting. “This is a good place to start. We’ll need to dig in and see if there are things that need to be changed or can be changed. Sometimes, it’s very hard to make changes once the budget is presented because anytime you change one thing, you have to balance it out.”
The general fund includes a proposed 5% pay raise for all city employees and follows action in the General Assembly to raise the salaries of state compensation board-funded positions, including sheriff’s deputies, teachers and most employees of constitutional officers, City Manager Randy Eads said.
“The General Assembly decided on a 5% increase across the board for comp board-funded positions, many school positions in the two-year biennium and Department of Social Services,” Eads said. “Some city employees are hybrid, either paid through the comp board solely or comp board and city-funded, or some are solely city-funded. To be fair to all employees, I felt it was in everybody’s interest to make it a 5% increase. It’s a large increase, but you have to be fair to employees across the board.”
The total tab for the wage increases adds about $617,000 to the budget.
“This is a way to attract and retain qualified employees,” Hartley said.
The budget does not include more than 15 requested new positions and leaves 6.5 existing positions unfilled for the next year. It does include a total of nine new full-time equivalent positions — four police officers funded by grants, a code compliance officer, a parks and recreation programmer and several part-time positions.
It also omits a $2 million capital request from the school division and nearly $400,000 in requests from the Sheriff’s Office for plumbing upgrades and installation of air conditioning at the city jail.
The budget includes a slight increase in tourism funding, raising the allotment to the Birthplace of Country Music from $1,750 to $7,500. There is no proposed increase for Believe in Bristol, which asked for $50,000 but is slated to get $7,500, or Discover Bristol, which is to receive $50,000 after requesting $175,000.
“There have been discussions by council to provide a percentage of hotel lodging tax to outside agencies. The funding in this budget provides 7% [forecast lodging tax revenue] for tourism promotion,” Eads told the council.
The budget also forecasts a $1 million increase in meals tax revenues and a $520,000 increase in sales tax revenues, which prompted a question from Councilman Kevin Mumpower about the source of the estimates.
“The local sales and use tax, meals tax and lodging tax were all based on annualized actuals that we’re seeing come through. I don’t feel like we are overestimating those revenues or underestimating those revenues,” Eads said. “In the trends in travel and restaurants, I’m hoping these numbers will be a little bit low.”
Residential trash collection is scheduled to remain at $33 per month, Eads said. The solid waste fund includes a $113,000 appropriation from the general fund.
Debt service represents about 7.8% of the total general fund expense for the upcoming year.
Tonight’s meeting begins at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 300 Lee St.