By Debbie Adams
Vinton Town Council members and department heads held their annual strategic planning retreat on the afternoon of March 5 in Council Chambers at the Municipal Building. This was their first in-person meeting as a group in Council Chambers since July of 2020 when new council members Laurie Mullins and Keith Liles, along with Mayor Brad Grose, were sworn in for new terms. The room, in fact, the Municipal Building itself, has been closed to the public for much of the intervening time due to the pandemic. Council has been meeting virtually.
First on the retreat agenda was updating the 2020-2025 Strategic Plan, followed by revenue analysis and fund balance discussions for FY21, anticipated capital improvement plans for FY21-FY28, an operating budget and employee compensation review, and confirmation of the budget timeline.
The FY21 budget was revised downward when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last spring with predictions of a severe economic downturn. Those fears do not seem to have been realized to the extent predicted. According to town staff, FY20 ended in a much better than anticipated revenue position, adding approximately $700,000 to the Fund Balance in the General Fund.
“Cash on hand” is in the most favorable position in recent history. The FY21 General Fund forecast has begun to stabilize around $500,000 above budget. That funding can be appropriated to fund important one-time projects or capital needs.
The town’s current policy is to “strive to maintain a General Fund balance equal to two months discretionary General Fund revenues.” The Government Finance Officer’s Association’s recommendation is a minimum of two months. Staff now recommends a policy of maintaining four months of General Fund Budgeted Revenues with excess revenues to be spent on one-time projects or the Capital Improvement Plan.
Town Manager Pete Peters presented the FY21-FY28 Capital Improvement Plan—year by year, beginning with FY21 projects anticipated, underway or completed. He commended and thanked Principal Planner Nathan McClung and Vinton Financial Services Analyst Brandon Gann for developing a comprehensive scoring matrix ranking the proposed CIP projects in order of needs.
Capital projects for FY21, which basically came to a halt during the pandemic budget revisions, include $1.25 million for projects involving PTO (Paid Time Off) conversion, Municipal Building and parking lot improvements, traffic signal updates on Clearview Drive, Hardy Road paving, Glade Creek Streambank Stabilization, and Gish Mill Delivery. Funds ($550,000) are being held in reserve for a sharing match with VDOT for rebuilding and repairing Mountain View Road in FY25-26.
Projects for FY22 (estimated cost of $835,000) currently include replacement and updating of five Gateway signs and landscaping, the Glade Creek Greenway required match, Gish Mill parking and façade, traffic signal improvements at various intersections (to reach a goal of eventually replacing signal lights at all 11 signalized intersections), a worksite and work zone safety package, ERP computer software replacement, repairs to the Vinton History Museum (electrical upgrades, basement waterproofing, and porch repair), streetscape planters, and body cameras for the Vinton Police officers in the amount of $100,000.
Vinton Police Chief Fabricio Drumond told council that the department has applied for a state grant in that amount through the Department of Criminal Justice Services 2021 Body-Worn Camera Grant program. The body cameras cost approximately $4,140 per unit and the department is asking for 20 cameras.
The Police Department will use its own forfeiture funds to replace outdated in-car cameras.
FY22 Capital Projects for the Utility Fund in the amount of $4.37 million will be financed by debt issuance to be repaid over a 10-year period, and will include SCADA system and water meter upgrades, along with renovations and upgrades at the Third Street Lift Station.
Peters reminded council that all the wastewater in the town passes through the aging Third Street Lift Station.
Peters also commented that the town may be receiving more CARES funding, with more flexibility in spending requirements.
Proposals for Capital Improvement Plan projects in FY23 (estimated cost, $540,000) include TASER and radar replacements, a wood-chipper, funds for closing the Vinton Swimming Pool, establishment of a skate park, another Glade Creek 2b match, more traffic signal improvements at various intersections, and sidewalks along Vinyard.
Peters informed council that the Vinton Breakfast Lions Club is planning to construct a new playground/park at the former swimming pool location once the pool is capped with concrete.
He also commented that all tax revenues from Rosie’s Gaming Emporium– estimated at $550,000 annually– are to be designated for Capital Improvement projects.
Suggested projects on the list for FY24 (estimated cost, $549,000) include replacing fuel pumps at Public Works, more traffic signal replacements, purchase of a dump truck, snowplow, and salt spreader, underground fuel storage tanks, and sidewalks along Bypass Road. Opening the Meadows Well at a cost of $350,000 is also on the list for FY24. (The Route 24 well may be closed then.)
The fuel pumps project is under discussion with Roanoke County. The two governments are considering partnering for a new site.
FY25 projects (estimated cost, $550,000) include more traffic signal improvements, funds for bridge maintenance on Garthright Bridge (one of two bridges in the town), and sidewalks along Cleveland Avenue.
Utility projects for a sewer easement jetter and Pitt/Peake water line replacement are also under discussion for FY25.
The CIP shopping list for FY26 (estimated cost $530,000) includes more funds for Garthright Bridge maintenance, completion of remaining traffic signal improvements, contingency funds for Mountain View Road Revenue Sharing, along with connection and transfer switchgear. Utility projects include replacement/realignment of the Valley Hall water line and purchase of a pickup truck with a dump body.
FY27 improvements on the list and under review (estimated cost, $547,450) include guardrails on Giles Avenue, Third Street, Niagara and Woodland Place, enclosing the Public Works equipment shelter, replacing the roof on the Municipal Building, and repairs and improvements to the Public Works storage area.
And in the final year discussed, FY28, long-term plans (estimated cost, $632,000) include reconstructing the Public Works parking lot, replacing the backhoe/front-end loader, installing a bathroom along the Wolf Creek Greenway, replacing a refuse truck, and installing guardrails on Chestnut Avenue.
To develop the FY22 budget, department heads were asked to fill out operating budget spreadsheets and justify their budget requests. The Finance/Budget team will combine all department budget, payroll, and capital requests and meet with the town manager to review line items requests to justify and prepare a balanced Manager’s Proposed Budget.
Public budget hearings will be scheduled for late spring and the budget adopted in June.
In the absence of public meetings and with CARES funding available, the town has used the intervening time to renovate Council Chambers with new laminate flooring replacing carpeting, and chairs replacing outdated upholstered seating, making the space easier to clean, disinfect, and sanitize for the well-being of staff and citizens. Wallpaper, lighting, and ceiling tiles have also been updated, using town dollars.
“We will likely keep one side of the room set with row seating for council meetings and one side will be set in conference room layout and used in between council meetings for smaller department meetings, client meetings, etc., and reset with row seating for council meetings again every other week,” said Peters. “We are keeping our conference room in the manager’s office, although it is limited to no more than 10, so the council chambers will give us the ability to host larger gatherings of 10-25.”
Peters said that a “plethora” of contractors have worked on the project, “doing various aspects of the work, from flooring, lighting, construction, plumbing, electrical, painting, wallpaper, HVAC, doors, furniture–it has been a constant parade of traffic since August.”