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Public Comments On Town Budget

FARMVILLE – The Town of Farmville is poised to adopt its 2012-13 budget, with a proposed new $10 per month sanitation fee, later this month.

All tax rates would remain the same.

The sanitation fee, which was opposed by the two speakers who addressed Town Council during Wednesday night's public hearing on the budget, will be added to the Town's water and sewer bills. Those bills are going to switch from a bi-monthly to monthly cycle.

A total of $15,240,178 in budget revenue from all sources is anticipated for the 2012-13 fiscal year, with expenditures of $14,632,173, leaving a balance, seen by Town officials as a contingency for emergencies or future projects, of $608,000.

Town employees, meanwhile, would receive a four percent raise.

Among other budget highlights, the Town is also proposing $60,000 to pay for an executive director for Downtown Farmville's Virginia Main Street project that is focused on downtown revitalization.

That funding was highly praised by Downtown Farmville's co-chair Jimmy Johnson Wednesday night.

“I just wanted to come and express our gratitude and thanks to the council for the support you've shown us in the past year, getting into the Virginia Main Street program, especially for the funding that's been in the budget, and we assume will be available the first of July,” Johnson told council members during the public comment period of the meeting.

Johnson described it as “a milestone for us to get to, to be able to bring staff on board and really get this program up and running.”

Town Council will meet on June 25 at noon to consider adopting the proposed budget.

During Wednesday night's public hearing William Firth and Jim McGall were the only speakers and both oppose the sanitation fee, with Firth also against the switch to monthly billing; he advocates quarterly billing by the Town for water and sewer.

Noting his letter to Town Manager Gerald Spates, and the letter he received in reply, Firth said, “I still strongly believe that it is wrong for Farmville at this time.”

He said the “inefficiency of monthly billing….would double the cost of the billing process. It would also be a hassle for the taxpayer. I think quarterly billing would have one-third the cost of monthly billing…”

Firth also said there was a “lack of financial justification for the fee,” citing the eight percent increase in total business revenues in Farmville last year and increased Town revenue from the business license tax on gross receipts.

The proposed budget, he also noted, has a “budget surplus of $608,000 in the coming year.”

For “these and other reasons it's hard for me to understand the reason for a significant increase in the Town's charges to residents at a time when many area families may be struggling economically…

“…I also think there's a problem with the fairness of the fee,” Firth told Town officials. “The fee is flat and it causes a greater percentage increase in the Town's charges to small property owners relative to owners of large properties…I believe a fairer way to pay for the services would be through the general revenues…”

Firth said he believes “that the Township's sanitation services are worth supporting but I object to imposing a fee for this service…”

Town Council was told to “scrap the proposed sanitation fee and save some money by going to quarterly billing.”

In his letter to Firth, Spates wrote, explaining the Town's reasons for instituting the sanitation fee.

“The Town provides sanitation service. We presently, and have for years, provided this service at no charge. We furnish a free rollout cart to residents and businesses. We provide curbside pick-up and dispose of the trash at the county landfill, at a cost of approximately $60,000 a year in tipping fees.

“In addition, we pick up leaves, brush and twice a year pick up anything a resident puts out to be picked up. The Town has a fulltime person, seven days a week that picks up trash on our streets and sidewalks,” he wrote. “We have been able to furnish these services to our residents and businesses, at no charge, for years. We can no longer afford to do so.

Of the proposed sanitation fee, Jim McGall told Town Council “I am against it, myself…”

And he said his opinion is shared by others with whom he has spoken, also citing letters to the editor published in The Farmville Herald.

McGall said that, being single, he doesn't need trash pick-up very often and hasn't had Town workers come to collect any other kinds of refuse.

Later in the meeting Town Manager Spates addressed the move to monthly billing.

“We did a comparison on current bi-monthly billing versus the monthly billing,” Spates said, “and you can see that most of them are pretty much the same…If you use 6,100 gallons, the bi-monthly charge and divide it in half, it would be $35.59 and with the new billing going monthly it's going to be $35.60, so it's a penny more.”

Residents using 3,000 gallons a month would not pay a penny more.

“And most of them are pretty much the same way until you get up to 50,000 gallons and it runs about $16 more a month, going to monthly billing,” the town manager said.

One of the Town's reasons for switching to monthly billing is to catch water leaks more quickly because leaks show up as unexplained increased water use in those bills.

“That's why we suggested going to the monthly billing…If someone does have a leak you catch them a lot quicker,” Spates said. “If you go to quarterly readings it's just going to prolong it a lot further.”

Town Council member Dr. Edward I. Gordon noted his personal experience with how quickly something like not turning an outside faucet off completely can greatly increase a water bill, just as a leak can.

It “can drive your water bill sky-high. I learned the hard way, not turning off completely an outside faucet and I was called by the Town to tell me to check everything ,” Dr. Gordon said. “Or a toilet running…the amount of money is really (significant).”