Like governments all across the nation, the town of Vienna is doing some fancy footwork to balance its proposed fiscal 2021 budget in anticipation of significant revenue losses caused by the public-health emergency.
Because various revenue sources likely will take hits before and during fiscal 2021, which begins July 1, town officials provided the Council with three budget scenarios that calculated revenue losses based upon different dates for when government operations and society at-large return to normal.
If matters went back to normal as of July 10, town revenues would be down by an estimated $855,000 (3.1 percent) and the debt-service fund, which is financed with meals-tax revenues, would see a shortfall of $769,300 (down 25 percent).
If the government reopened Sept. 30 – something Finance Director Marion Serfass deemed far more likely than the July 10 scenario – general-fund revenues would be down nearly $1.38 million (5 percent) and the debt-service fund down about $1.02 million (33 percent). The respective funds’ declines as of a governmental reopening on Dec. 31 would be about $2.3 million (8.5 percent) and $1.5 million (50 percent).
Town officials plan to make up debt-service fund losses by drawing from some of the fund’s $8 million in cash reserves, Serfass said.
The town’s proposed budget of nearly $43.6 million includes $27.4 million for the general fund, $10.2 million for water-and-sewer-fund expenditures, $5.5 million for debt service and nearly $440,000 for stormwater-fund expenses.
Vienna’s general-fund budget receives 44 percent of its moneys from property taxes. Officials plan to hold the town’s tax rate steady at 22.5 cents per $100 valuation for the sixth straight year.
Vienna officials propose to soften some of the revenue losses by transferring $462,000 worth of capital items – including sidewalk replacements, milling and paving projects, and replacements of town computers and police laptop computers – from the town’s general fund to the capital-projects fund.
Those items could have been put in the capital fund before, but traditionally had been assigned to the general fund, Serfass said. “I’m looking under every rock, and that’s what I found,” she said.
Town Manager Mercury Payton originally planned to give town employees 3-percent pay raises. Officials have removed those increases from the budget during the crisis, but hope to provide some compensation increase when financial circumstances improve, Serfass said.
“We don’t want to furlough anyone if we don’t have to,” she said.
Council members are slated to adopt the budget May 11, and Serfass will give them monthly updates during the public-health emergency.
The 90-minute-long April 13 Council meeting was the first (not counting the March 31 emergency session) to be conducted with a majority of members checking in from remote locations. Town officials, in keeping with Gov. Northam’s directive prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people, kept the presence of Town Council members, town staff and members of the public to a minimum at Town Hall that evening.
Mayor Laurie DiRocco and Council members Nisha Patel, Steve Potter, Douglas Noble and Linda Colbert communicated via Zoom from their homes. Payton and Public Works Director Michael Gallagher participated via video from their offices at Town Hall.
Only Serfass, Town Attorney Steven Briglia, Town Clerk Melanie Clark and Council members Howard Springsteen and Pasha Majdi were present in the Council chamber at Town Hall.
Majdi, who appeared to be the only one wearing a face mask, recommended the Council adopt a “wait-and-see” budget with no new spending, discretionary expenditures or new projects until the town begins collecting real-estate taxes in late August. The Council then should vote on whether to spend those revenues, he said.
Majdi also recommended the town have a COVID-19 response fund to pay for public-safety initiatives and support small businesses.
Some residents sent written and e-mailed comments for the budget public hearing. Only three people checked in via Zoom.
Resident C. John Pott said the town was lucky not to be dependent on tax revenues from businesses, which have been hit hard by the crisis.
The other residents who weighed in electronically both are running for Town Council this year. Roy Baldwin called the town staff “heroes” for continuing to work during the crisis. Charles Anderson, while also complimenting town officials for their work under difficult conditions, urged the Council to draw down cash reserves and not give in to pleas for non-essential expenditures.
“The squeakiest wheel is not always the neediest wheel,” Anderson said.