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Roanoke City Budget Still Strained

Chris Morrill

by Valerie Garner

City manager Chris Morrill said that the city’s economic recovery is at least four years away and the one percent growth in revenue of $2.5 million was due in large part by improvements in the prepared food, lodging and business license tax. Allowing for inflation it keeps the high priority services level funded. Few supplemental requests were honored.

Medical, dental and life insurance employer contributions increased. “We are able to meet our very core services although not a lot else,” said Morrill. “(These are) still extremely difficult times.”

Of the $252.7 million budget $72.5 million will go to the schools. City employees will receive a three-percent pay raise. City employees are behind the market in comparable compensation by five percent. They received their last pay raise of two percent in 2008.

The city funds its own retirement system. The sheriff’s department is the only exception that will require a five-percent raise to offset the five-percent VRS contribution required by the State.

Amelia Merchant

Amelia Merchant, director of management and budget, presented the fiscal year 2013 budget to city council Monday. The budget was over allocation by as much at $11 million when the priority teams first started. Targeted areas for growth did not materialize; fleet replacement, technology capital and building maintenance will suffer.

After adjustments, only $1.4 million of the increased revenue was available for allocation. This went to library enhancements, safety, human services, infrastructure (paving and radio), good government, livability and economy. Many more requests were rejected – the one percent for bike lanes, an additional staff member for neighborhood services, a purchasing staff addition, a Fire/EMS automation coordinator and many others.

Fees were increased for parking tickets, athletic fencing rental, open space rental, towing of inoperable vehicles, fire protection permits, fire works permits and EMS fees. Councilman Ray Ferris, in announcing there were “no new taxes,” disavowed the fees were a tax. He said they only cover the cost of the service provided.

Ann Shawver, director of finance, also recommended a 1.5 percent cost of living increase for city retirees.

Councilman Sherman Lea asked citizens for their input, “We want to hear what you have to say.”

The public can weigh in on the recommended budget on Thursday, April 26 at 7 p.m. in council chambers. Another council briefing will take place on May 7 at 9 p.m. with adoption of the finalized budget scheduled for the May14 2:00 p.m. council meeting.

In other business:

-Mary Colette Carver was honored as a Citizen Hero. On April 16, 2011, as a spectator at the second annual National College Blue Ridge Marathon, she administered CPR to a collapsed runner. Ed Dietch was taken to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital suffering from a massive heart attack and was in full cardiac arrest. He survived and will walk the upcoming third annual marathon this year.

-Four applicants for Roanoke City School Board made presentations to city council. Mae Huff, Todd Putney and Richard Willis, Jr. are current members of the school board. John Elliott, Jr. is making his second attempt.

-William R. Rakes, on behalf of Roanoke River Associates, LLC, requested rezoning 20 acres that used to be a scrap yard and mill site along Jefferson Street. Tori Williams, representing the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, said they supported the plan. Council’s concurrence was unanimous.

Over a 20-year period the site will be transformed into a mixed-use development with businesses, offices, retail, housing and public space along the river that will connect to the trail system. Spokesman Jason Vickers-Smith said that the industrial land would connect to neighborhoods. Underneath the Walnut Street Bridge there is a unique opportunity to create a special type of outdoor area he said. The development will become more dense over time with parking decks.

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