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Clarksville budget calls for tax, sewer rate hikes

SoVaNow.com / May 29, 2013
The draft budget for the Town of Clarksville calls for a 9 percent hike in sewer rates and a 3 cent increase in the real estate tax to address long-term infrastructure spending needs.

Even with the rate and tax increases, overall spending is set to go down by nearly 4 percent in the proposed $1.49 million package, which would go in effect July 1.

Clarksville Town Manager Jeff Jones laid out the rationale for the budget at Town Council’s May meeting last week. Jones said the suggested increases were driven mainly by the need to rebuild the town’s capital improvements contingency fund and by demands by grant issuing agencies that the town’s water and sewer operations be self-supporting.

“As towns try to keep costs down, the place you touch is the capital improvements money. By doing that, in the short term, you stabilize budgets, but for the long term you are not investing in infrastructure, and you quickly get behind the eight-ball,” said Jones.

Adding that Clarksville has not raised real estate taxes since 1999, and that its rate, 24 cents per $100, lags behind three other towns in Mecklenburg County, Jones told Council it was time to “strategically start emphasizing infrastructure.” Even with the 3 cent increase, to $0.27 per $100, Clarksville still would have the lowest real estate tax rate in Mecklenburg County. Boydton’s rate is $0.33 per $100, South Hill’s rate is $0.34 per $100 and Chase City’s rate is highest at $0.39 per hundred.

In the coming fiscal year, Clarksville must begin paying its share for sewer upgrades to the Kinderton Technology Park. Clarksville’s share is $75,000, with the county paying a separate amount. According to Jones, one of the conditions imposed on Clarksville under the grant used to build the park is that the debt be paid from “sewer fund profitability.”

For the past several years, both the water and the sewer funds have been supported by transfers of money from the general fund, and this cannot continue, he said. Jones added that while the water fund generates sufficient income to pay for itself, the same is not true for the sewer fund.”

“To work towards making the sewage fund fully self-funded and to build in the required capital contingency fund for the sewer plant,” Jones proposed raising sewer rates by 9 percent. In-town sewer rates for the first 10,000 gallons will jump from $59.50 to $65.00 bi-monthly, and out-of-town rates will go from $135.50 to $147.70 bi-monthly.

Water rates would remain unchanged.

With the increase, and assuming all other sewer rates around the county remain unchanged, Clarksville would have the second highest cost of sewer among local municipalities. Boydton tops the list with a bi-monthly rate of $71.68 for the first 10,000 gallons. South Hill’s rate is $61.00 and Chase City’s rate is only $37.88 bi-monthly.

Jones added that he has been told that “another municipality is raising its sewer rates, and if that happens, Clarksville comes in at next to the lowest in the county” as far as its bi-monthly rate.

Other budget highlights include a 3 percent salary increase for all town employees, except the Town Manager, a 1 percent salary adjustment for employees mandated by the Virginia Retirement System, and a 5.7 percent increase in the cost of health care for town employees. Jones, who was recently hired, will not receive any salary increase in the proposed budget.

Even though employees are given a mandatory 1 percent salary increase, on top of the proposed 3 percent raise, they do not receive the 1 percent in their paychecks. Instead, that money is paid directly to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS), in accordance with a bill passed last year by the Virginia General Assembly.

In other business, Council continued its debate over whether to adopt a noise ordinance in town.

Some two years ago, the Virginia Supreme Court struck down every noise ordinance in the state for being too vague.

Since then, Clarksville Police have had to address noise complaints, ranging from barking dogs to loud parties to the thumping car stereos, asking noise makers to voluntarily lower the volume.

The issue flared up most recently during a party at the Clarksville Community Center. The party ended when police were called to dispense a fight, and investigate alleged gun shots.

Both Councilman Bill Nunn and Mayor Kevin Allgood questioned the need for a noise ordinance, and one so detailed. The proposed ordinance, however, was defended by Councilman Chris Clarke, who said the police force needs a tool to keep the peace, and the ordinance was nearly identical to one passed by the City of Danville after the Supreme Court decision.

Since Council could not come to a consensus regarding the ordinance, Jones offered a suggestion. Most of the recent complaints involved the Clarksville Community Center, he noted, and there is no language in the Center’s rental agreement covering noise. Therefore, Jones offered to redraft the agreement inserting a clause which would allow the town’s police to shut down any party or event which disturbed the neighbors quiet enjoyment.

Finally, former interim Town Manager Charles Lee unveiled the proposed expansion of the Clarksville Public Library. “It will increase space by 65 percent,” said Lee of the library, which is the smallest facility in the region, but has the second largest number of patrons and computer users.

The estimated cost to expand the library is nearly $300,000. However, a library fundraising committee already raised more than 50 percent of the monies need for the project.

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