Real estate tax, utility fee increases being considered and other news from Luray

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~ PVN staff report

LURAY, Jan. 27 — During Tuesday evening’s work session, members of the Luray Council discussed the potential for an increase to both the real estate tax rate and water/sewer fees as part of the upcoming budget process for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

“I’ve been saying for two years, we need to adjust the tax rate because when you don’t…then you’ve got to do it all at once,” Councilman Jerry Schiro said, noting increasing costs.

New positions are being proposed in several departments, which would drive up expenses. While federal ARPA funds are being used for infrastructure, capital improvements and easing the tension on local governments’ general funds, the relief dollars are not being earmarked for any ongoing expenses such as personnel.

At least one new position at both the water and sewer plants is being mandated by the state in order to meet current regulations. That will likely push monthly rates on those utilities up to cover the additional costs. Water and sewer revenues and expenses are channeled through an enterprise fund that is separate from the Town’s general fund. The enterprise fund is designed to be self-sufficient, with rates based on the direct costs to provide the service.

New positions in the police department, recreation department and the treasurer’s office would increase the general fund by an estimated $290,000. The specific requests include:

  • Police Department: two full-time positions — upgrading the full-time, part-time Detective position and one new full-time position; cost for upgraded position anticipated to be $35,000 for salary and benefits; cost for new position anticipated to be $70,000 for salary and benefits. Positions requested to allow full coverage of all shifts and anticipated need as the Town population grows.
  • Parks & Recreation Department: two full-time positions — cost anticipated to be $100,000 for salary and benefits. The position request are to allow full weekend coverage and fulfill ongoing maintenance needs.
  • Town Treasurer: upgrading a full-time, part-time position to a full-time position; cost anticipated to be $15,000 for salary and benefits. The position had previously been full-time, but was downgraded to accommodate the needs of an employee. The workload of the Treasurer warrants the additional time.

“I would like to see how we could have no tax increase,” Councilman Joey Sours said at Tuesday’s work session.

While no decisions were made this week, Town Manager Steve Burke stated that he wanted to get the discussion started early in the budget process. However, the discussion seemed to dictate that if new positions are approved, either additional revenue or cuts in other areas would need to be found.

Councilman Ligon Webb stated that he found Luray’s levy of 27 cents per $100 of assessed value on real estate to be one of the highest for towns in the region. During the discussion, council members mentioned potentially raising the rate as high as 30 cents per $100. Each penny of Luray’s real estate tax rate generates about $48,000.

Local governments may advertise a tax rate for public hearing and then vote to approve a lower rate as part of the annual budget process. However, once a tax rate is publicly advertised, the governing body may not approve a higher rate.

The council will likely advertise a tax rate in April or May for public hearing, with a final budget approved in either May or June. The current fiscal year ends on June 30, with the new budget going into effect July 1.

In other business at its Jan. 25 meeting, the Luray Council took no actions, but discussed the following topics:

Renaming of North Alley, which is broken into three sections on the north side of East Main Street. Several names have been recommended by the public to include recognition of businesses in the area, as well as former town officials. Part of the alley runs behind Bradley Funeral Home and Town Hall.

• A Code Amendment to Town Code Chapter 74 – 111 to 119 from House Numbering System to 911 Addressing to more closely align with the County’s Code related to addressing. The Town Attorney has developed the draft amendment for Council’s review and determined that no public hearing is required. The Town Attorney has drafted the Ordinance whereby the Town Manager, County Administrator, and County GIS Manager evaluate a request to name or rename a Town road or subdivision for compliance, and then present the request to Council for final approval.

Sketch Plat application received from Tom Shoemaker and Jim Vaughan for the subdivision of Parcel 42A12-A-101 into 12 developable lots along Reservoir Avenue. On Jan. 12, The Luray Planning Commission recommended approval of the Sketch Plat with the provision that continued access to Parcel 42A-26 be provided.

• Second one-year extension of the Ralph Dean Park Concession Contract to the Luray Little League to operate the concession booth at Fields 1-3 from March 1, 2022 through Sept. 7, 2022; and the booth at Fields 4-5 from March 1, 2022 through Oct. 30, 2022 as permitted by the Contract executed Feb. 28, 2020.

Two additional events in coordination with the Luray Downtown Initiative for FY 2022-2023. In December 2022, as part of the Christmas Holiday celebration, local businesses could purchase and decorate “Christmas Cards” made from a single 4’x8’ piece of plywood that would be placed along the Greenway. In January 2023, First Night Luray would be a simple New Year’s Eve event with music and food vendors at Ruffner Plaza extending possibly to Mechanic Street. Council members expressed concerns about potential advertising along the greenway, as well as maintenance time for placing and removing the “Christmas cards,” but showed some interest in launching a First Night event in Downtown Luray.

Set the council’s next “retreat” for 9 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 12. The Luray Council held its last retreat at the Mimslyn Inn on Feb. 6, 2021. Some governing bodies hold retreats to get out of their normal environment for meetings and allow more open discussion about short-term and long-term planning and goals.

Prioritization of ARPA funding in general terms of how the Town should appropriate the funds and consider approval of the 2021 expenditures. The Town has already allocated or earmarked about half of the more than $5 million anticipated over the next four years.

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