Purcellville has an adopted budget for next year, but the Town Council is not done talking about it.
During a sometimes testy meeting Tuesday night, the council voted 5-2 to adopt the budget, including controversial utility rate increases. Mayor Kwasi Fraser and newly elected Councilwoman Kelli Grim opposed the spending plan. Vice Mayor Patrick McConville, Councilwoman Karen Jimmerson and Councilman John Nave voted to approve the budget.
Town Manager Robert W. Lohr Jr. presented the budget in January and the council had shaved it down by $240,000 since then. The final version includes a $10.9 million General Fund, $540,000 in the Parks and Recreation Fund, $9 million Utility Fund spending and $1.2 million for capital projects.
The council had been scheduled to adopt the budget at its May 31 work session, but the vote was delayed when Nave objected to the proposed 5 percent increase in sewer rates and a 3 percent increase in water rates.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Grim, who was elected to fill a vacant seat in May’s election, focused on the long-term challenges of operating the utility system and rejected assessments by the staff and town consultants that rates must increase annually unless more development happens in town. She pressed for other options. “This is not a plan for our future,” she said.
Nave also asked what options the council had.
In answer, Lohr said the town staff had looked at many ideas, some very creative, that could work to the town’s benefit, but they could take a long time to achieve. “There is no easy solution—I wish there was a rabbit to pull out of the hat,” he said.
While the staff would continue to look at other options and sources of income, Lohr warned that postponing the recommended rate increases would hurt the town.
“If you keep the rates artificially low, and it doesn’t pan out, the fiscal impact will be significant, and we may be talking about an insolvent plant in five years,” he said.
McCollum agreed that the council, facing a June 30 deadline to adopt the budget, could not change course this year. “This is the eleventh hour,” he said. “It’s too late—we’ve had the budget since early January.”
Councilwoman Karen Jimmerson said she had mixed feelings on the issue but acknowledged the town’s responsibility to cover the cost of operating the town expenses. “I don’t feel comfortable saying no,” she said.
Fraser also questioned the proposed rate hikes over a period of years as recommended by the town’s financial and rates consultants to bring the utility system into balance.
“When does it stop—it never stops,” he said, calling it a “strategy for growth, growth and growth … I don’t see an end.”
“There has been a strategy. You may not like it, but there is one,” Vice Mayor Patrick McConville said.
Grim criticized the work of the town’s financial consultants, saying they should have provided more alternatives to rate hikes.
The mayor said the new town council, which will have three new members beginning July 1, would study the issue in greater detail and come up with new answers.
Grim also pressed for more budget cuts, proposing a list totaling $418,000 in cuts, many of which have already been addressed by the council, but none of her recommendations was adopted.