Working on Town Budget

Working on Town Budget

Town considers budget, historic district and much more.

The few changes that have been made to Vienna's proposed 2006-07 budget did not end up being the subject of discussion at the public hearing regarding the budget at Monday's Town Council meeting.

The most significant change was an unexpected savings on health insurance premiums, which had been budgeted for an 11 percent increase. The actual increase in premiums amounted to only 4.6 percent, resulting in a savings of $42,704 in the General Fund and $6,323 in the Water and Sewage Fund. All of the savings in the Water and Sewage fund were put back into reserves, as was $36,388 of the savings for the General Fund. The remainder of the savings, along with $5,000 saved by eliminating the color option for the town calendar, was put toward unforeseen costs in offsite storage and a small increase in dues for the Northern Virginia Regional Commission.

Taken from the donation reserve account was $500 to be donated to the Shepherds Center of Vienna-Oakton.

Town resident Ron Corso brought a written statement laying out his concerns about the town's spending. Addressing this year's reduction in the real estate tax rate, he told the council, "The facts for my home show that since 2000, my Vienna real estate taxes have increased an average of 9 percent per year, or a total of 68 and-a-half percent." He asked that the town be sensitive to the burden of its taxes and frugal in its spending.

He set as an example the "now infamous" Town Green. Corso said he had talked to neighbors who were not interested in having a town green, and he noted that it would be placed in a congested and less-than-scenic location.

"The value of it to the town's citizens is something we would like to see the mayor and Town Council spell out, both in terms of cost and public benefits," he said, adding that the fact that the Town Green would be paid for by the meal tax did not seem satisfactory. He said the idea that the meal tax brings in revenue from out-of-towners who eat in Vienna is deceiving because "most of us eat at restaurants in Vienna."

Mayor Jane Seeman pointed out that, although the town is not allowed to use referendums, it does hold public hearings such as the one held to discuss the construction of the Town Green.

Corso replied that many citizens do not have time to attend council meetings and asked why a questionnaire could not be sent out with the town newsletter. Seeman agreed that this was a good idea.

Councilmember Maud Robinson noted that there had been similar taxpayer complaints about the beautification project on Maple Avenue. "There is a reason behind all this — to keep our commercial core viable, productive, to encourage renovation of businesses and new businesses," she said, "and this has been the case. There have been returns on the money the town has spent on these things. The Town Green is yet another stage of that."

She cited rising commercial real estate assessments and the continuing addition of new banks in town as evidence.

Corso said he was enthusiastic about upgrading Maple Avenue and concluded, "I just wanted to make a plea and an appeal to let you know we're hurting out there a little bit."

FOLLOWING THE PUBLIC hearing, Councilmember Sydney Verinder asked Town Manager John Schoeberlein how the town's budget was being affected by the General Assembly's continuing inability to pass a budget.

Schoeberlein said the biggest impact would affect funds for road maintenance, which the town would address by holding back on spending for the time being. "We would prefer to put freezes [on spending] on at the beginning and then release these as the funds become available," he said.

Based on a conference call he had had with Seeman, Gov. Tim Kaine and Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer, Councilmember Mike Polychrones said his understanding was that road construction projects that had not yet been started would have their budgets cut by 40 percent, with the funds being transferred to road maintenance.

"We shouldn't see a reduction in maintenance," he said, "but where that's going to hurt us is projects like Beulah Road." Polychrones said the cut in the Beulah Road budget was forcing the town to borrow from future projects, and he asked what the town would do when it was ready to undertake projects on Cottage Street and Branch Road.

Seeman said that at least the Beulah and Branch road projects were covered by money borrowed from the funding for Cottage Street.

THE COUNCIL ALSO voted Monday night not to allow the property at 210 Lawyers Road, held by PMY Associates, to be removed from the Windover Heights Historic District. Jerome and Joanna Covel and Matthew and Susan Stich, all principals of PMY, are litigants in a lawsuit against the town contesting the legality of the historic district. Jerome Covel and Paul Henon, another principal of PMY, have been attempting to have properties removed from the district since at least 1983.

The council had held a public hearing on the subject at its last meeting, during which Jerome Covel and his son Michael, as well as Matthew Stich, had laid out PMY's complaints about being in the historic district. These generally revolved around the district's property restrictions and their enforcement.

Lovelace was the first council member to weigh in, saying that he found in the material presented by PMY "no compelling reason given to getting out of the district." He added that he felt "such a move would be deleterious to the district and thus the town" and noted that no accusations of undue restrictions on the property had been made, as it had never been brought before the Historic Board of Review for approval of alterations.

"The property was bought by PMY Associates full well knowing it was in the historic district," said Seeman. "When someone buys with eyes wide open as to the restrictions, then I'm not in favor of letting the boundary change."

Councilmember Laurie Cole said the argument presented by PMY failed to address the specific property in question and more or less restated the case against the validity of the entire district, an argument that is currently under litigation.

Robinson agreed that no hardship had been demonstrated and added that she felt allowing the property to be removed would set an "unfortunate" precedent for tinkering with the district's borders. She then read from a letter written to the town by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1991: "In the opinion of the National Trust, permitting individual property owners to 'opt out' of the historic district simply because they would prefer not to be regulated would undercut the effectiveness of the whole district."

A LONG LIST of smaller items were also addressed at Monday's meeting.

The council held a public hearing on a proposed amendment to increase the amount of space on a scoreboard allowed for sponsors' advertising from a maximum of 12 square feet or 10 percent of the area to a maximum of 40 square feet or 25 percent of the area. The amendment was proposed because it has become difficult to find signs that fit the current limitations. It was approved and placed on the next meeting's agenda to be adopted.

Other items approved included:

* The awarding of a contract to Blue Chip Services for $37,278 for janitorial services at the Town Hall and the police station. This will be a reduction from the current cost of $59,278 for using in-house staff.

* The payment of an additional $14,054 to Mount Vernon Asphalt and Paving Inc., the town's current asphalt repair contractor, for work on Follin Lane.

* The third of four possible one-year extensions of a contract with Recycle America Alliance for recyclable material processing. The town pays $15 per ton of commingled recyclables and receives $12 per ton of newspaper. Based on the estimated tonnage of each item, the town expects to receive approximately $42,200 over a five-year return.

* The granting of catastrophic sick leave of up to 396 hours for a police dispatcher who is bedridden by complications with her pregnancy. The hours would be paid back upon her return.

* The scheduling of a public hearing for June 5 to consider issuing new general obligation debt estimated at $4,950,000 for various public improvements.

* The appointment of the law firm Hunton and Williams to serve as bond counsel for the issuing of the new general obligation debt. The cost of counsel is estimated not to exceed $15,000.

* The scheduling of a closed session for May 15 to conduct the annual review with the town manager, town attorney and town clerk.

* A draft resolution recognizing the 50th anniversary of Parkwood Preschool and honoring Clarene Vickery, its founder and director.

* The scheduling of a public hearing for June 5 to consider a proposed cable franchise to Verizon Virginia Inc. for the installation of new video cable service facilities in town.