Williamsburg Adopts Largest Budget Since 2009

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The Williamsburg City Council adopted its fiscal year 2016 budget Thursday. (Ian Brickey/WYDaily)
The Williamsburg City Council adopted its fiscal year 2016 budget Thursday. (Ian Brickey/WYDaily)

The Williamsburg City Council adopted the largest municipal budget since the beginning of the Great Recession six years ago.

Council members unanimously approved the $56.4 million document during their meeting Thursday. The adopted budget for fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1, represents a 2 percent increase in both revenues and expenditures over the previous year’s budget.

The city’s operating budget totals about $34.5 million.

Mayor Clyde Haulman said the increased revenue showed the city had nearly recovered from the Great Recession.

“We’ve had to maintain and expand services with fewer resources,” Haulman said. “What this does is allow us to expand again. We can begin to take some pressure off of the staff and others that picked up a lot of the impact of these types of changes.”

The largest expenditure in the adopted budget — $18.5 million — goes toward city departments, with public safety the single-largest recipient.

Most of the city’s general fund revenue – more than $27 million – comes from property and other local taxes, including room and meal taxes. The adopted budget maintained the current property tax rate of 57 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Higher yields from property taxes was the major factor in the city’s increased revenue, with a 3.8 percent increase from residential properties and 1 percent for commercial, for a total increase of 3.8 percent. Williamsburg’s total real estate value is about $1.79 billion.

Council members approved a 17-cent increase in the city’s water and sewer rate, raising it from $4.95 to $5.12 per 1,000 gallons beginning July 1. The change represents a 3.5 percent increase over last year’s rate, and continues a trend that dates back at least 10 years.

The personal property tax — sometimes known as the “car tax” — remains at $3.50 per $100 of value, bringing in an estimated $2.7 million in revenue.

The budget adopted by the City Council on Thursday contained several minor changes from the document City Manager Jack Tuttle presented in March, with several arts, tourism and cultural organizations receiving additional support.

The Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance received an additional $100,000 over its previously projected $650,000 in municipal funding to support tourism programming in the Williamsburg area.

Alliance President and CEO Karen Riordan has said the organization plans to focus additional efforts on the so-called “shoulder seasons,” especially with Christmas-themed holiday events. The Alliance had originally requested $900,000 in city funding.

The Williamsburg Area Arts Commission and the Williamsburg Regional Library also received minor additions to their city support of $10,000 and $3,831, respectively.

Emergency Medical Services Recovery fees will go up 14.5 percent over last year, through the use of a new billing vendor and increasing fees to the maximum rates allowed under Medicare. The new rates include $501 for basic life support, $595 for advance life support 1, $860 for advance life support 2 and a $10.50 mileage rate.

Revenue from EMS fees decreased dramatically last year, falling 21.7 percent from the amount budgeted for fiscal year 2014. The city first collected the fees in 2006 to fund the fire and EMS portion of the city’s budget.

The budget allocates $8.7 million to the Williamsburg-James City County school system – down $108,000 from the initially proposed contribution.

Under the joint school contract, the county pays for 90.5 percent of the schools’ operating costs, while the city covers the remaining 9.5 percent. When James City County adopted a smaller contribution to the schools for next year, the city had to reconcile its budget to follow the funding formula.

The adopted capital improvement plan, which oversees large-dollar construction projects, includes $2.9 million for construction projects in the school division, including $2.6 million for the construction of WJCC’s fourth middle school.

That figure currently acts as a placeholder, as the city and county must negotiate a funding split for the construction costs. City Manager Jack Tuttle said a final agreement has yet to be reached.

The adopted budget for fiscal year 2016 also rolls over $184,000 for a one-time tourism promotion contingency fund to support tourism events in the Williamsburg area. In the last fiscal year, money from the fund was used to support the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit at the Muscarelle Museum of Art, the Harvest Celebration and the Winter Blues Jazz Festival.

A $250,000 one-time fund for economic development was also rolled over to the next fiscal year for use by the Economic Development Authority.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation receives $1.3 million in the new budget — level funding from last year. Foundation President Mitchell Reiss has previously said the funds would go toward the foundation’s media budget, which will focus on digital advertising through the summer months.

The budget allows for one additional full-time employee, boosting the city’s full-time staff to 191, and includes a 2 percent allowance for merit pay increases.

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