The Purcellville Town Council on Tuesday night approved a $23.9 million budget for Fiscal Year 2023 that includes a 1-cent real estate tax rate reduction.
In their final round of deliberations, council members revisited a number of hot-button topics, but made no additional changes to the spending plan proposed by Town Manager David A. Merarski.
The $13.5 million General Fund budget is a 10% increase over the adopted FY 2022 budget and the increase across all town funds is 6.4%, although the budget remains below pre-pandemic spending levels.
Among the items that were questioned were the proposal to provide a 6% cost of living increase to employees, the addition of a new IT staff position, and continuing to provide identification theft protection to employees who may have been affected by a 2017 data breach.
Some council members held out hope of altering the multi-year plan to increase water rates by 3% and sewer rates by 5% annually. That decision could come after the council gets a detailed update from its financial advisors on the status of its long-term rate strategy and recommendations on how best to use the $923,000 that was received as part of its nutrient credit program.
Councilman Stanley J. Milan Jr. cast the lone vote against the budget after repeatedly raising concerns that the town should do more to provide relief to residents wrestling with the impacts of high inflation.
Despite the lower tax rate, property owners can still expect higher tax bills following a year that saw assessments increase by an average of 11.72%.
During the budget deliberations, the staff provided nearly 90 pages of material to answer questions raised by council members.
On Tuesday night, the council received more detailed information on the contractor selection to provide ID theft protections to employees and their families, with some members questioning whether a cheaper vendor could be used. The approved budget continues the current contract for another year, with the option for one additional year remaining.
The staff also provided a detailed history of the acquisition and operation of its Munis ERP system and the role a new IT staffer would play in enhancing use of the platform and assisting all town departments.
Some council members had advocated using the $923,000 one-time revenue derived from selling nutrient credits on the town-owned Aberdeen property to reduce the scheduled increases in utility rates. A representative of the town’s financial advisor, Davenport, presented some options for strategic use of that money during a presentation on Tuesday, none of which involved short-term rate hike reductions. A more detailed presentation is planned May 24. The council was told it had the authority to lower the rates even after adopting the budget should a viable plan emerge from those discussions.
The proposed 6% COLA was questioned as being a larger increase than is being provided in other area jurisdictions. Merarski said his recommendation was based on the Social Security Administration index, but also was intended to address the concern that the town has not kept pace with salaries over the years and many employees—more than a quarter, according to a previous study—are being paid below market rates.
He said it was important to recognize the staff’s work. “I’ve never had a team as talented as this one. You are very fortunate,” he said, urging the council to “continue to honor employees with the compensation they deserve.”