Taxes held in check as council advances FY14 spending plan

Posted: April 24, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — City Council took a key step toward establishing its fiscal year 2014 budget Tuesday night by advancing an ordinance to approve a proposed $80 million general fund spending plan.

By an 8-0 vote at a work session, the councilors forwarded an ordinance to raise general fund spending by $124,000 over FY13. No tax rates are to be increased.

Total spending for all funds for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is slated to be $212.7 million.

A public hearing and vote on the budget will be held at the council’s June 11 meeting.

The spending plan was moved forward with one caveat attached — that no money to be contributed to the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum’s capital campaign for its permanent home be distributed until a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is in place between city and museum officials about how the money is to be used.

At the council’s request, City Manager Dale Iman included $100,000 in the budget as the first of five equal installments to the children’s science museum.

After operating at 54 S. Loudoun St. since it was founded in 1996, the Discovery Museum purchased the former Schewels Furniture building at 19 W. Cork St. and is renovating the structure. Museum officials have said they hope to open at the new location early next year.

City Council decided in 2004 to give land in Jim Barnett Park toward the museum’s home instead of cash.

However, when fundraising for the project lagged and the museum’s lease on the land lapsed, considerable public sentiment arose against giving up the park land and the offer was withdrawn in 2010. In March, the councilors voted to pitch in $500,000 for the project, matching Frederick County’s commitment.

Council Vice President Milt McInturff raised the question about allocating that much taxpayer money without any commitment for how it would be used.

“There should be more thought than just giving them $100,000 a year for the next five years,” he said. “I think there should be a MOU, something with controls for how they can use it.”

Council President John Willingham said that stipulation could be attached to the funding, and it eventually passed without dissent.

Ben Weber briefly tried to strip the Discovery Museum of $10,000 in operating funds included in the budget but withdrew his motion after several fellow councilors said they would not support it.

The proposed budget includes a 2 percent raise for city government employees.

Nearly $4.5 million in funding for Capital Improvement Plan projects is in the budget, including $1.5 million in spending on a new emergency communications system and $1 million on parking garage repairs.

Streets and sidewalks get considerable attention, with $900,000 budgeted to repave 5.1 lane miles of city streets and $830,000 set aside for sidewalk repairs.

Police Chief Kevin Sanzenbacher also briefed the councilors on security preparations for the 2013 Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, which runs from Friday through May 5.

He outlined training that city emergency personnel have received in recent years. It includes weeklong bomb-recognition training in New Mexico and crowd-management lessons Special Weapons and Tactics team members learned while assisting with security at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Sanzenbacher said there’s no reason to think the festival is targeted for any sort of incident this year. However, in light of the April 15 bombing at the Boston Marathon, residents are asked to make an effort to find the owner of a stray cooler or backpack and call police if they can’t.

“Our rule is, ‘See something, say something,’” he said. “We want people to be extra vigilant this year.”

The councilors also:

Voted 7-0 with one recusal to advance a request by Winchester Medical Center to rezone three-quarters of an acre of land at 441 Linden Drive to Medical Center District from Low-Density Residential District. Willingham recused himself because he is on WMC’s board of trustees.

Voted 8-0 to advance a request by NVA Properties LLC to rezone 0.45 acre of land at 2307 Stoneridge Road to Low-Density Residential District from Highway Commercial District.

Voted 8-0 to advance an ordinance amending sign regulations.

Voted 5-3 to advance for approval a conditional-use permit for KKE Properties LLC to convert ground-floor commercial space at 22 Wolfe St. to residential use. Willingham, Vice-Mayor Les Veach and Councilor John Hill opposed the motion.

Voted 7-1 to advance an ordinance pertaining to council-appointed boards and commissions. Councilor Evan Clark opposed the motion because the ordinance would eliminate the Tree Commission and Natural Resources Advisory Board.

Voted 8-0 to advance an ordinance pertaining to supplemental appropriations for FY13.

Attending the meeting at Rouss City Hall were President John Willingham, Mayor Elizabeth Minor, Vice President Milt McInturff, Vice-Mayor Les Veach and councilors Evan Clark, John Hill, John Tagnesi and Ben Weber. Councilor Jeffrey Buettner was absent.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com