Manassas approves budget with street, museum system cuts

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Manassas City Council gave preliminary approval to a $94.9 million general fund budget Monday that curtails street maintenance and eliminates jobs and the museum system's educational program.

"In this environment, it is awfully difficult to come up with a budget," said Manassas Mayor Harry J. "Hal" Parrish II (R). "The council took up the challenge of having reduced revenue . . . and did the best it could in our current environment."

The fiscal 2011 budget, set to be officially adopted May 10, is based on a real estate tax rate of $1.318 per $100 of assessed value, about 3 cents lower than this year's. At that rate, the average residential bill will remain flat and the average commercial bill will drop nearly 14 percent. The budget and tax rate were slightly less than what the city manager had proposed.

"A flat average residential tax bill is what we promised the citizens back when we gave direction to the city manager, and that's what we delivered," said council member and Finance Committee Chairman Marc T. Aveni (R).

The Manassas Museum System took the hardest hit this year, losing its historic resources director and $360,000 -- funding that was used to support its educational outreach programs. City officials said they will, however, support efforts related to the upcoming sesquicentennial of the Civil War and will work with the museum to ensure it remains operational on a smaller budget.

The budget is 6 percent smaller than the current general fund budget and eliminates 18 jobs. The cuts will reduce customer service in the offices of the commissioner of revenue and the registrar, Manassas officials said, noting that the city now employs slightly fewer than 500 people, down from 580 in fiscal 2009.

The budget reduces police services, street sweeping, paving and repairs, and freezes city employees' salaries. It also transfers $47 million to the schools, about 5 percent less than this year.

Some areas of the budget fared better. It maintains funding for nonprofit groups, adds a family services benefits specialist position and provides money for Northern Virginia Community College. It also maintains an incentives program for new and expanding businesses.

The general fund makes up part of the city's total $293.9 million budget and includes the majority of city services. Separate from the general fund is fire and rescue. The council approved a 15.4-cent fire levy, up about 1.5 cents, to support a $6.2 million fire and rescue budget. The additional money will be used for a new computer-aided dispatch system and to lease more storage space.

On Monday, the council also approved increases in water, sewer and electric rates. Residents can expect to pay about $5 more a month for those services.

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