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Back to the drawing board as Chase City Council rejects town budget

SoVaNow.com / May 13, 2020
Chase City Council voted down the town’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year Monday night after expressing opposition to plans to raise water and sewer rates for residents.

The vote was 4-2 with Council members Charles Willis, James Bohannon, Marshall Whitaker and BJ Mull voting against the draft budget and Lisa Gillispie and Brenda Hatcher voting in favor.

Mayor Eddie Bratton said the budget process is now back to square one, with a June 30 deadline for enacting the 2020-21 fiscal year package.

Town Manager Dusty Forbes asked Council members to approve a $5.6 million budget that included nearly $2.1 million in funds for the Endly Street community rehabilitation project. Forbes said the $3.6 million general fund is up from last year’s $2.4 general fund expenditures due in part to increased water and sewer expenses.

The Roanoke River Service Authority, which supplies town water, is raising its rates by 5.5 percent, according to Forbes. To offset that increase, Forbes asked Council to approve a $1 increase in monthly water charges. Currently, residents pay $25.10 per month for water service, for up to 3,000 gallons per month usage. That figure would rise to $26.10.

Sewer rates would climb from $15.90 to $19.90 per 1,000 gallons per month. Forbes said the monthly sewer bill for an average household would be about $65.

Currently the sewer fund is running at a deficit of between $45,000 and $50,000 per year. Forbes said the increased fees would eliminate the deficit and allow the town to build a reserve fund for upgrades that he said will soon be needed at the aging plant.

Forbes said the budget comes with no tax increase, and with the exception of the water and sewer expenditures, it is flat funded.

Mayor Bratton said the typical schedule for approving town budgets would be to approve a first reading, authorized the Treasurer to advertise the budget in the local newspapers, hold a public hearing, have a second reading of the budget with Council and vote to approve it.

Now that Council voted down the proposed budget at the first reading, Bratton said he will have to call a special meeting to revisit the issue and discuss adjustments before moving through the steps required to adopt a budget for fiscal year 2021, which starts on July 1.

In other business, Council voted down a recommendation for the town to purchase a dump truck to replace the broken-down one used by water plant employees. Forbes said the electrical system on the 32-year-old truck is shot and no longer able to be repaired.

Mull was the only member of Council voting for the purchase.

Forbes said the replacement vehicle, a 2001 quad cab, is a “quality purchase” that he inspected along with the town mechanic and head of the town maintenance department. The cost was just under $24,000.

Forbes suggested borrowing the money needed to pay for the truck at a 2-3 percent interest rate, but Council members Willis and Bohanan worried that the town would not have sufficient income to cover this added expense. “I hate to borrow money,” said Bohanan.

Willis asked Forbes to apply the proceeds received from an earlier sale of old vehicles to the purchase price for the dump truck, which Willis estimated at around $10,000. Forbes explained that of the $9,600 received from the sale, $5,000 was earmarked for guns and ammunition for the police department and was already spent.

Nevertheless, Council members Bohanan, Willis, Whitaker, Gillispie and Hatcher voted against the purchase of the vehicle and asked Forbes to revisit alternative ways for the town to purchase the vehicle without borrowing all $24,000.

Council held a first reading to a new ordinance that would require owners of vacant buildings in the town’s business district to keep their storefront windows covered with either brown or white paper if the building is used for storage. The ordinance also called for these coverings to be maintained in a clean and neat manner at all times. Failure to either install or maintain the coverings would result in the imposition of a $250 per day fine, which would be capped at $1,000.

Council also held a first reading on an ordinance to allow the operation of food booths at the annual fair and at events held by the Town or public organizations if approved by the Town. A final vote on the ordinance is planned for the June meeting of Council.

Forbes also recommended changes to the town zoning ordinance to align the town code with that of the County when it comes to setback distances for outbuildings and fences. Accessory buildings would have to be set five feet back from any existing property line, and fences would have a one-foot setback.

Chambers in Action, a program sponsored jointly by Chase City, Clarksville and South Hill Chambers, to assist local small business owners sold out in one day, according to Forbes.

The CIA project offered shoppers a chance to purchase gift cards for participating businesses at 50 percent of the value. The chambers offered a dollar-for-dollar match for each gift card used as long as the matching fund lasted.

Funds for the program ran out in less than one day, according to Forbes.

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