Mekarski Proposes 8 Percent Budget Increase in Purcellville

While the Town of Purcellville in 2020 might not charge residents a whole lot more in taxes, it could be setting itself up to tax them more in the future.

Purcellville Town Manager David Mekarski presented his proposed fiscal year 2020 budget to the Town Council on Wednesday night. The $26.3 million budget—which marks an 8 percent increase over the current fiscal year’s $24.4 million budget—includes a proposal to hold the town’s real estate tax rate level and increase utility rates by less than recommended, while bumping staff pay by 3 percent and setting aside $1.2 million for the town’s new police department headquarters.

As for taxes, Mekarski proposed the town maintain the Fireman’s Field Tax, which is currently set at 3 cents per $100 of assessed value, and keep the real estate tax rate level at 22 cents per $100 of assessed value. Purcellville’s real estate property assessments increased by 5.22 percent in 2019, according to the county’s Commissioner of the Revenue’s assessment and that means property owners could pay an average of $24 more in the coming fiscal year.

Mekarski also proposed to increase the water and sewer rates by 3 percent, or by 19 cents and 47 cents per 1,000 gallons respectively, as opposed to the 9 percent increases that the Municipal & Financial Services Group recommended last year.

Mekarski said he proposed to defer a higher rate increase to allow Stantec, the town’s new utility rate consultant, to complete a cost-of-service, chargeback and utility rate restructuring analysis.

He pointed out that there has been a 75 percent drop in revenues from water availability fees as current projects reach build out. With the council rejecting a number of annexation requests that would permit additional development, he said the staff estimates wastewater availability fees to decline by 90 percent, or $1.5 million, below the amount predicted in the current budget. Councilman Joel Grewe pointed out that the current $4.8 million sewer fund would be emptied in less than three years at that rate.

Of the $2.7 million budgeted for public safety—a budget that accounts for nearly 23 percent of the general fund—Mekarski proposed to set aside $1.2 million for the initial phases of building a new police headquarters, which the staff estimates will take two years to complete. He said that money could be used for any one of numerous undertakings, including a site or space analysis, conceptual or preliminary engineering and architectural designs, a portion of an offer to purchase a property or to pay for a temporary headquarters.

Councilman Tip Stinnette, however, said that $1.2 million for a single fiscal year was a bit much, noting that it would take three to five years to build a new headquarters. He asked the staff to refine the number to “get to a point of realistic could-be’s versus pie-in-the-sky could-be’s.”

“That’s a big number for an assumption that has a lot of ambiguity in it,” he said.

Mekarski also proposed that 3.8 full-time equivalent positions be added—a new patrol officer, a transition from part-time to full-time for the police department accreditation manager, a maintenance worker and a new financial analyst, since Budget Specialist Tom Angus is retiring. Including a managerial command realignment within the police department and the authorization to hire an additional officer, those total $326,148.

In noting that the Parks and Recreation Fund includes no proposed Capital Improvement Program projects for next year, Stinnette pointed out that the county parks department has indicated the Fireman’s Field complex needs $2 million worth of improvements. Mekarski said the town has no documentation to support that claim, but that it recently commissioned a structural engineer to study the matter. “We’re going to validate that,” he said.

With three months until fiscal year 2020 hits, Mekarski said the town would find ways to fund an employee compensation study to prevent more staffers from quitting. Aside from Angus’ retirement, Barry Defibaugh, the water treatment plant operator, also left to take a job in the Town of Hamilton. “We don’t want to lose any more talent,” Mekarski said.

He said the town would also identify ways to fund the more than $1.5 million needed to implement Novak Consulting Group’s 48 recommendations to the town’s government structure and look at expanding the sewer system to other residential areas outside the town limits, and not just to Hamilton and Hillsboro as had been discussed previously.

“While we have challenges, we do have opportunities,” he said. “This is doable, this is not my first rodeo.”

In addition to Grewe and Stinnette, Mayor Kwasi Fraser and Councilmen Ted Greenly and Chris Bledsoe attended the budget presentation. The first of four budget work sessions is scheduled for 7 p.m. next Thursday, March 28.

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