Proposed Manassas budget includes tax hike, more public safety positions

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 6, 2011

Manassas City officials proposed a fiscal 2012 budget Monday that would increase residential tax bills slightly to enhance public safety operations, avoid layoffs and end an almost three-year salary freeze for government employees.

The $95.9 million general-fund budget is based on a somewhat brighter economic forecast, Manassas City Manager Lawrence D. Hughes said, because residential and commercial property assessments are up for the first time since 2006. But, he said, it was really the City Council's quick action in 2008 to restructure government and cut 4 percent of the workforce that put Manassas in a financially sound position this year, as the economy begins to recover.

"The budget forecast is not as dark as it has been, but it's also not as robust as it was in the early 2000s," Hughes said. "There are also still some uncertainties with state and federal funding."

The proposed budget is 1 percent larger than the current budget and is based on a tax rate of $1.246 per $100 of assessed value and a 17.4-cent fire levy, which is up 2 cents from last year. If adopted by the council, the average residential tax bill would go up about 3 percent, and commercial would drop about 2 percent, Hughes said.

Residents would also have to pay an additional $5.20 a month to cover the rising costs in water, sewer and electric rates, Hughes said.

The additional 2 cents for fire and rescue would be used for vehicle replacement and to maintain daily operations, Hughes said, noting that the department was depleting its reserves. The money would also cover three new battalion chiefs and three firefighter medics. A vacant captain position would be eliminated.

Hughes said he is still looking for a new fire and rescue chief, following the resignation of Chief Michael L. Wood last year. The city received about 50 applications, and Hughes said that he plans to soon interview about five people.

The police department would also get a boost under the proposed budget. Four new positions are funded, and there is money for increased neighborhood patrols, Hughes said.

"Public safety takes center stage in this budget, both for police and fire and rescue," Hughes said.

Under the proposed budget, employees would receive a 2.25 percent salary increase on average, Hughes said, along with a one-time $1,000 bonus to help offset the rising cost of health insurance. The city would offer a new health-care plan that would require employees to pay higher co-pays. But it would save the city about $900,000 more than last fiscal year.

The proposed budget doesn't include any service cuts and also invests about $7 million in road, park and dam projects as well as vehicle and equipment replacement. Schools would get almost $47 million.

The City Council will conduct several budget work sessions over the next few months and hold two public hearings at 7:30 p.m. March 14 and April 25 in council chambers. The council is scheduled to vote on the budget May 9.

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