Council holds work session on $75.1 million budget

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Photo by Meg Hibbert
Salem City Councilmembers Bill Jones and Jane Johnson, left, with Jim Chisolm, Mayor Randy Foley and David Martin go over the proposed 2017 – 2018 city budget with city staff Monday afternoon.

Members of Salem City Council rolled up their sleeves for their first group look at the proposed $75.1 million budget for Fiscal Year 2017-18 on April 10. City Manager Kevin Boggess called it “the least painful budget in a long time” out of his nine years of budgeting for Salem.

Boggess credited city departments with holding down projected expenses based on their experience from preparing budgets over the years in tight economic times.

Monday’s work session came after a noontime Council meeting, a change from the usual evening meeting. Council members and staff ate lunch that was brought into the council work room, while they asked questions and got explanations on expenses and revenue.

No other work sessions are scheduled on the budget, which will be aired at a public hearing scheduled for April 24. Council meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. May 8 is the date the budget is expected to be adopted. The complete budget is available on the city’s website.

The city’s balanced budget, as presented, reflects a $370,000 increase in expected real estate taxes and a slight decrease in sales tax revenue – which council members believe is due to increasing Internet sales instead of shoppers buying at brick-and-mortar stores.

“Unless you have some sort of service component, there is no incentive to open stores anymore,” remarked Councilmember Jane Johnson, who with her sons own R.M. Johnson & Sons jewelers on East College Street.

Other expected increased revenue would come from:

2.1 percent in revenue from real estate taxes, attributed to 1.1 percent new construction;

3.8 percent increase in revenue from business license taxes; and

A $120,000 increase in meals tax which is partially dedicated to school capital or debt service.

The city will contribute $19.6 million to Salem City Schools, for next year has a total budget of $43.2 million. That figure is almost $1 million less than the current year. The city provided an increase of $362,440 in next year’s budget.

One of the biggest changes in both expenses and revenue in the city budget reflects that Salem is no longer operating its own waste transfer station which last year cost $4 million to run. Instead, Salem joined the Roanoke Valley Resource Authority and so doesn’t haul its own refuse to Amelia County. Consequently, the city does not receive the $3 million in revenue from other localities and private entities for processing and hauling their disposables.

One of the budget items drawing a great deal of interest from businesses is almost twice the amount of money set aside for beautifying business facades in downtown Salem. This year’s $30,000 has been pretty much spoken for, and next year’s budget includes $70,000. The individual grants of up to $5,000 are to be used for sprucing up front, side or rear facades of downtown businesses which face a public street.

The grant money can go for painting, new roof lines, entranceways and other improvements to make businesses more enticing to customers. O’Brien’s Meats added an outside seating area to its business a couple of blocks from City Hall, and Charlotte’s Web Antique Mall is planning on using façade money for a side courtyard, according to Economic Development Director Melinda Payne. Downtown Salem’s new look is part of a downtown plan prepared in the last year after public input.

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