Town budget will raise rates on utilities,increase meals tax
By Nancy Lindsey
No member of the public spoke at a public hearing May 20 on the proposed town budget for 2015-2016.
The Stuart Town Council will vote in June on the town budget, which includes a 1% increase in the meals tax, a 2% increase in the rates for water, sewer and garbage service, and a slight increase in the real estate tax.
Mayor Ray Weiland said the increase in the meals tax, from 4% to 5%, is expected to produce about $60,000 in additional revenues and will go toward the new station for the Stuart Volunteer Fire Department, to be located on Commerce Street in downtown Stuart.
The 2% rate increase in utilities will be spread over a five-year period with the additional funds to be used for upgrades at the sewage treatment plant, Weiland said.
Weiland said at an earlier meeting that most town water and sewer users pay the minimum, which would mean an increase from about $46 per month to about $50 per month at the end of five years.
The real estate rate will increase from 16.4 cents per $100 assessed value to 17.2 cents per $100, according to the budget advertised in this newspaper.
The budget reflects a 5% overall increase over the 2014-2015 budget, and includes an average 2% cost-of-living increase for town employees.
Town Attorney Chris Corbett recommended that the town council adopt the budget at its June 17 meeting.
The proposed budget includes $861,300 in revenues and expenditures in the general fund; $641,000 in the water and sewer fund; and $165,000 in the sanitation fund, for a total of $1,667,300.
in other matters at the May 20 town council meeting:
*The council voted unanimously to adopt an "adopt a flower bed" program. (See related story.)
*Council member Dean Goad said he had a complaint from a town resident about a problem with pulling out from Slusher Street to Blue Ridge Street when there are large vans or trucks parked in front of the Adult Education Center building.
Corbett agreed that it's hard to see how to get around the vehicles.
Town Manager Terry Tilley said he would speak to County Administrator Tom Rose about the problem.
Council member John "Mac" Deekens said there were always vehicles parked there when the building was a business (the old Virginian Restaurant). "It's strange that it's coming up now," Deekens said.
Tilley said it might be partly because of the paving being done at the county parking lot next door, which is taking up a lot of parking space.
Tilley said the council might have to consider a "cars only" parking policy.
The Enterprise reporter said there is a similar problem in the alley behind My Friend's Closet and Main Street Cards and Gifts, where a large van or truck is habitually parked on the right, blocking sight distance.
(The parking spot used to be a handicapped space, but the sign has been removed.)
Weiland said the council might have to look at that situation also.
*Council member Terry Dalton asked if the town could do anything about the dilapidated old house next to Hardee's.
Tilley said he and Corbett talked to the owner about it, but he didn't want the responsibility of removing the building, and it can't be burned down.
Corbett said the old shed adjacent to the house was successfully removed a few years ago, but "blight abatement" can get complicated with potential liens and auctions.
"It's getting harder to get rid of a building," Tilley said. "The expense is so high."
"We have done some blight abatement in the past and may want to do some in the future," Weiland said.
*Weiland announced that the town's water treatment plant had received the Silver Award from the Virginia Department of Health Clean Drinking Water program for being a leader in providing safe water to town residents.
"The town's been getting these awards since the program began," Weiland said.
*Tilley said there is a problem with the sidewalk in front of Swail's Insurance on Orchard Street, which has gradually become lower than the street pavement.
He said there is a little extra money in the budget to fix it.
There is also a problem with a crack in the middle of Slusher Street, which belongs to the town, not the state highway system, Tilley said.
He said it would be helpful if the equipment being used to fix the county parking lot could be used to repair and seal the crack in the street.
Deekens asked why the town couldn't turn the street over to the state. Tilley said the state wouldn't take it because the town has traditionally refused to give up its angle parking for parallel parking.
Corbett said the crack appeared over the years when the sheriff's office and jail were located in the courthouse and inmates washed deputies' cars on sunny days in the winter. The water ran down the street, and when night fell and temperatures plunged, the crack developed, he said.
"Could we recoup money from the county?" Goad asked.
Corbett said it was to everyone's benefit, at the time, "to have clean cars and inmates in jail."
*Tilley reported that the Strawberry Festival was quite successful, with about 2,500 people attending.
He said Town Clerk Susan Slate and Town Coordinator Billy Gammons "did a great job" in planning and carrying out the festival.
Left to right: Sgt. Major Sowers, Student Government Association members Mary Catherine Stegall, Ethan Gilbert, Cassidy Largen, Preston Morrison, Lexy Carico, Josie Pendleton, and award recipient Perry Hughes. (Photo by Stephen Henderson)