If you’re dining out in the Town of Lovettsville, you might be paying for the town’s sidewalks and streets.
The Town Council last Thursday night discussed ways of funding a portion of the town’s streetscape projects using revenue from the town’s 3 percent meals tax. Although the council last June voted in favor of directing the meals tax revenue into a reserve account for streetscape projects in the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget, that transaction was never completed once the current fiscal year began in July 2018.
Town Manager Rob Ritter suggested the town transfer $120,000 from the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget’s General Debt Retirement reserve fund to a new Streetscapes reserve account, both in the general fund, to correct the misnomer. That money would be used to help pay for the design and construction of streetscape projects like sidewalks, streetlights, curbs and gutters, storm drains, pedestrian crossings, trees, signs, benches and off-street parking.
The town staff expects to generate $175,000 in meals tax revenue by the close of the current fiscal year on June 30 and will direct $55,000 of that amount toward the South Church Street project, of which the preliminary engineering work has already begun.
As of April 23, the town had collected $135,666 from meals tax revenue in fiscal year 2019. Staff expects to pull in another $39,334 by June 30.
During the council’s 25-minute discussion of the matter, Councilman Chris Hornbaker said that even if the town set aside $175,000, it wouldn’t be enough to cover the “execution to deliver streetscapes and pedestrian safety.”
Hornbaker noted that the town in recent years spent $150,000 for new sidewalks and each year pays $15,000 for street lighting, $1,000 for streetscape maintenance and $700 for sign replacement. He mentioned that the town also will pay $150,000 annually for the next decade for phase 1A of the Broad Way Improvement Project and $200,000 annually for phase 2A, which will begin in the coming fiscal year and will install curbs and gutters, a water line, streetlights and sidewalks along Broad Way between Park Place and Light Street.
He said streetscape projects should be placed in the town’s Capital Improvement Plan and completed in phases—not just pulled from the meals tax.
“When you want to do something, name a project that has a time, a scope and a dollar amount and put that in front of the council,” he said. “That’s basic budgeting, basic financial management, basic fiscal responsibility.”
Councilman Mike Dunlap said that it would be proper to direct meals tax to a separate fund to, in part, finance streetscape projects.
“Is it not fiscally responsible to build reserves and have savings? Is it not fiscally responsible to plan for the future rather than assume that you’re going to borrow money?” he asked the council.
Dunlap suggested that a streetscape fund comprised of meals tax revenue would provide the town with money that is “ready to go” for the first phase of the next streetscape project, perhaps for initial engineering.
Ritter said the town would calculate how much money it has left over at the close of the current fiscal year to determine how much it can put toward that streetscape fund.
He noted that money would not be the only source of funding for streetscape projects. “There are other reserve accounts for streetscape also,” he said.