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David Bowers said his Monday suggestion was intended to “make a good point.”
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
A quick nose count on Roanoke Mayor David Bowers’ suggestion to raise taxes suggests the politics could be difficult.
Bowers floated the idea, along with a suggestion to increase salaries for the city council and mayor, at the end of more than five hours of detailed briefings Monday on budget options for next year.
“No!” was Councilman Ray Ferris’ emphatic response.
“Nobody on council has discussed the idea that I know of,” Councilman David Trinkle said Tuesday .
“I think we’re going to get this budget done without a tax increase.”
Trinkle said he would oppose any tax increase this year, especially since the council is due to tackle the question of whether residents and businesses should pay fees to fund badly needed drainage work and more stringent water quality regulations.
Vice Mayor Court Rosen and Councilmen Sherman Lea and Bill Bestpitch also said no. Councilwoman Anita Price said she didn’t see a need just now.
“The city’s financial situation is as strong as it’s been in years and years and years. We don’t need to raise taxes,” Rosen said.
Bowers said he’s had a mixed reaction to the idea.
“There are some raised eyebrows, some ‘What are you thinking?’ Others say, ‘I think you made a good point,’ ” Bowers said Tuesday. “That’s my intention, to make a good point.”
Bowers said that through the long briefing on the budget, he kept coming back to a comment from city Finance Director Ann Shawver that the modest growth forecast for next year’s budget would bring it to roughly the level in 2008. He said he kept thinking of the $25 million cut from the budget then that was never restored.
“I kept thinking of all the things we said no to — no, no, no for so many years,” he said. “Sooner or later, if you don’t fix the roof, the roof leaks.”
Even now, city officials still need to close a $1.1 million budget gap, representing about 0.4 percent of a roughly $259 million spending plan.
They are trying to figure out how to pay the roughly $409,000 bill for a series of social services and health programs, ranging from Meals on Wheels to the West End Center to a variety of programs for the homeless, as well as Head Start programs run by Total Action for Progress , which have been hit hard by the across-the-board federal budget cuts, and a $222,000-a-year cost of having trash crews help people with disabilities handle their refuse.
City officials have given a thumbs down to additional staff in the purchasing, personnel and public relations office, as well as to a proposed expansion of outdoor education and library research staff.
In suggesting city taxes should rise, Bowers said the council and mayor deserved pay increases, too.
Roanoke’s mayor is paid $20,000 a year, while the vice mayor earns $16,560 and council members $15,560. They took a 5 percent cut in pay on July 1, 2009, but restored pay to the old level as of July 1, 2012.
The city’s elected officials are paid less than those in Portsmouth, which is slightly smaller than Roanoke.
Roanoke County pays its supervisors more, while the board chairman is paid slightly less than the city’s mayor, according to a survey conducted by the city’s budget office.
Unlike several Virginia cities, including Norfolk, Richmond and Newport News, Roanoke’s elected officials are paid less than the maximums set by state law. For Roanoke, those maximums are $25,000 a year for the mayor and $23,000 for the council members, including the vice mayor.
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