City budget passes on split vote

Radford High School senior Daniel McManus, at right, absorbs some mayoral education from Mayor Dr. Bruce Brown at Monday’s city council meeting. McManus will serve as mayor at Radford High School’s upcoming Student Government Day.

City council voted three-to-two to pass Radford’s 2017-18 budget on Monday, with the mayor and vice mayor each casting no votes.

The budget does not include increases to tax rates, a trend for the past several budget years. The only increased cost to residents is $2 a month for solid waste pick-up, bringing the monthly fee to $20.

Prior to the vote, Vice Mayor Dr. Richard Harshberger said that while he supports City Manager David Ridpath and his leadership, he could not vote in favor of a budget he thinks could put the city in a precarious financial situation in the not-so-distant future.

“I am going to vote no tonight to register my frustration that, as well-structured and presented as this 2017-18 budget is, it represents an uncorrected shortage in the balance between revenues and expenditures that requires a drawdown of our reserves that is not sustainable in the long run,” Harshberger said, reading from a prepared statement. “I take this action knowing that David and his valiant and dedicated staff have worked long and stressful hours to produce a document that is so well-developed that I cannot find any way to squeeze a nickel out of it.

“David and his staff and department heads have developed every efficiency to minimize the costs of government,” he continued. “Despite their best efforts and everyone’s effort to increase revenues – which we have done every year – increased costs continue to out-distant increased revenues.”

Mayor Dr. Bruce Brown said the reliance on reserve funds, primarily from the sale of electricity, is putting the city on an unsustainable path. In a statement, Brown pointed to electric deregulation and other factors putting pressure on electric revenues, putting that revenue stream at risk.

“Former councils made what, at the time, was a very sound revenue decision in 2004 to supplement funding our general fund with income from the electric enterprise reserves,” Brown said. “Deregulation of power in 2008-2009 resulted in an increase in our [wholesale] power. That, coupled with a downturn in the economy, strained our revenue stream but we were still able to draw the $2.5 million targeted for electric revenue and grow. Once the foundry closed in 2014 the drain on reserves to support general fund operations began to take a toll.”

Brown said that while the 2017-18 budget is “theoretically is balanced with no tax increase,” it is only due to the reliance on dwindling reserve funds.

“While we continue to hold out hope forts to grow revenue through meals, lodging and sales taxes along with a rebound in industry related employment, I worry this will be too little too late,” said Brown.

Councilman Keith Marshall voted in favor of the budget and said he would like to see what happens over the next year in terms of revenue growth. Marshall also praised Ridpath for cuts in the budget.

“This budget includes necessary cuts to reduce expenses,” said Marshall. “I believe this budget is sustainable. I think we have a good plan for growth and I think this next year will prove that. If not, we’ll make adjustments.”

The city’s real estate tax rate is 76-cents per $100 in value of a property. City council’s next regularly scheduled meeting is Monday, May 8 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 10 Robertson St.

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