Tuesday, October 4, 2022

No tax increase, more public engagement: Here’s a look at Williamsburg’s 2020 budget

From left to right, Benny Zhang, Doug Pons, Mayor Paul Freiling, City Manager Andrew Trivette, Barabara Ramsey and Ted Maslin after the State of the City Address. (WYDaily/File photo)
From left to right, Benny Zhang, Doug Pons, Mayor Paul Freiling, City Manager Andrew Trivette, Barabara Ramsey and Ted Maslin after the State of the City Address. (WYDaily/File photo)

The City of Williamsburg recently released its fiscal year 2020 budget, and it looks a little different than previous years.

This year, the city aims to increase public engagement and make the budget an easier document to use, City Manager Andrew Trivette said.

The budget message is now printed on colorful 11-by-17-inch pieces of paper, featuring bright photos and diagrams of how taxpayer money is spent, and why.

When City Council approves its final fiscal year 2020 budget, the city hopes to print the entire budget on that size paper.

“The budget is approaching 400 pages this year,” Trivette said of the traditional-size budget. “It’s a great tool, but as a way to communicate, not so much.”

Overall, the proposed budget totals $68.28 million and is “fiscally conservative,” much like budgets in previous years.

Here are some things residents should know about the proposed budget:

Taxes

This year, the city manager has proposed the property tax rate the same as last year, at 60 cents per $100 of assessed real estate value.

Last year, the real estate tax rate increased to 60 cents from 57 cents.

But homeowners in the city may still see their tax bills change.

The city assesses all property values every year, and this year the assessed value is projected to increase by no more than 6 percent on average.

The city assessor is currently working on home assessments for the city’s approximately 4,600 homes, Finance Director Barbara Dameron said. Some other Virginia localities assess properties every two years, like James City County, or every four years.

That could be both a positive and negative for homeowners: Their property’s assessed value is increasing, but their tax bills will also increase.

If a property’s assessed value increased 6 percent, that homeowner’s tax bill will increase about $56 per semi-yearly tax bill.

“It’s not a dramatic increase, but it is an increase,” Trivette said.

Trivette said not all homeowners’ bills will increase; some may decrease depending on the assessment of their home.

He also added the city is required by state statute to factor in the maximum possible increase.

“We say 6 [percent] knowing it’s not going to be 6,” Trivette said.

Schools

This year, Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools had a tall list of capital improvement projects for the upcoming fiscal year — some of which the city could not financially manage all at once.

Many middle and high schools in the division are approaching full capacity, others are over capacity. The school division has proposed several projects that could help alleviate that burden.

Trivette said he met with city school board representatives and some City Council members to prioritize and make a plan for the school division’s capital improvement projects.

“It allowed us to arrive at a healthy compromise,” Trivette said.

Under the plan Trivette helped organize, the city will be able to help fund all needed school projects within five years, and as planned, without raising taxes.

The city shares the responsibility to fund WJCC Schools with James City County. The breakdown of funding is based on the percentage of students enrolled from each locality.

The city pays 9.48 percent of the school division’s request.

RELATED STORY: Here’s what you need to know about the upcoming JCC budget

Services

Williamsburg’s water and sewer system is entirely self-supporting, meaning fees and payments are used to keep the utilities running and maintained, Dameron said.

A rate increase is in the near future, but has been pushed off for a couple years, until fiscal year 2022. The possible increase stems from less water usage and more efficient appliances.

The city water and sewer rate is $5.30 per $1,000 gallons used.

When a rate increase happens, it will likely be phased in over a number of years, Trivette said.

Tourism

This year, the budget includes the Tourism Fund under its special funds section.

Tourism funds traditionally given to entities, such as $1.3 million to Colonial Williamsburg and $800,000 to the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance, will now be moved from the general fund to the Tourism Fund and released from there.

The income generated by Senate Bill 942 will also be put into the Tourism Fund.

Some of that money — about $1.9 million — will be used for the Tourism Development Grant Fund.

Trivette said there have been about half a dozen grant applications submitted requesting funding. One of those applications is for a city project.

Reserve

In recent years, the city’s reserve fund has dropped from a high of 80.9 percent of the total operating budget in 2014, down to 38 percent in 2019.

The drop in reserve funds is mostly because of unanticipated capital expenses, according to the budget message.

In this budget and future budgets, Trivette and Dameron said the goal is to keep building reserve contributions so the fund balance stays at or above 40 percent, which allows the city to address opportunities or handle emergencies during “any fiscal year,” the budget message said.

City Council policy requires the reserve to be at least 35 percent of the annual operating budget.

The schedule moving forward

  • April 11: City Council meeting, public hearing on proposed budget, tax levy and utility rates
  • May 4: City manager budget report to Neighborhood Council of Williamsburg
  • May 9: City Council meeting, adoption of FY2020 budget, council sets tax rate

The full budget can be viewed on the City of Williamsburg website.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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