VINTON–Members of Vinton Town Council held their annual Strategic Planning Retreat on the evening of October 26 and on October 28. Mayor Brad Grose, Vice Mayor Matt Hare, Councilwomen Sabrina McCarty and Janet Scheid, and Councilman Doug Adams met at the Vinton War Memorial to review progress since the 2014 retreat and the crucial issues the town is facing in order to develop and prioritize “short and long-term goals that support our vision and strategies to achieve them.”
This year the planning sessions were facilitated by Kathy Baske Young who kept the sessions moving, the ideas documented, and members focused on the task at hand.
Several council and staff members who recently attended the annual Virginia Municipal League (VML) conference returned with many innovative ideas to share pertaining to issues Vinton is facing.
Town Manager Chris Lawrence and Finance Director/Treasurer Barry Thompson presented an overview of trends in revenues, operating expenses, and capital expenses since 2009 with projections through 2020.
In the General Fund over the past several years there has been a shortfall with revenues somewhat under expenditures for the most part. A compensation study is under way across all town departments which may lead to an increase in salaries in order to be competitive with surrounding localities. Thompson anticipates a continued increase in operating expenses as well.
The Utility Fund, which Vice Mayor Hare emphasized “is a business” and must break even, is “meeting its needs,” although another rate increase may be necessary in 2017-2018 or a subsequent cut in services will be required to balance the budget. (Under Virginia law local budgets must balance.)
The town owes an outstanding debt of $8.3 million on General Obligation Bonds, $2.1 million in revenue bonds, $159,000 in leases for police vehicles, and $679,600 in other obligations (to Roanoke County for the town’s half of the purchase of the property for the new library, to the Regional Center for Animal Control and Protection, and to the Western Virginia Water Authority).
The net debt falls well within the town’s legal debt limit of $52.8 million. Debt limits are based on the assessed value of the town’s total property which is $528,171,940 and are restricted to 10 percent of that assessed value.
There was discussion of Capital Improvement Project requests by the various departments. The Utility Fund Capital Improvement projects include upgrading to automated meter reading and repairs to, or replacement of, the water and sewer lines in the Lindenwood subdivision which are in constant need of maintenance.
Lawrence said that the water/wastewater system in Lindenwood is not actually owned by the town, but by Roanoke County, which complicates the decision-making.
The next topic was the gainsharing agreement between Vinton and Roanoke County which has been in place for about 17 years and is set to expire in 2019. Lawrence explained that with the long-standing contract Vinton agreed not to attempt to annex property in East Roanoke County while the county agreed to 20 years of certain service payments to the town.
Since then, the town has been receiving 11.77 percent of all sales taxes collected in Roanoke County although the town only makes up 8 percent of the county’s population. Fifty percent of all new revenues in East Roanoke County are split between the town and county.
As part of the agreement, Roanoke County also refunds $110,000 per year to the town for solid waste collection and disposal, because town residents pay county taxes but the town provides the sanitation services to its citizens.
As another part of the agreement, the town and county share Fire/EMS service costs fifty-fifty.
Gainsharing revenues peaked at about $594,000 in FY2012-2013 and are budgeted at $550,000 for the current fiscal year, where Thompson expects them to remain.
Lawrence noted that the language of the gainsharing contract demonstrates the good relationship between the town and county with the agreement intended to help sustain the town. The contract states that the “agreement assists in the fiscal preservation of the Town of Vinton and is a modest cost to Roanoke County.”
Another topic under discussion was the possibility of a stormwater utility fee. Councilwoman Janet Scheid said that if the town is forced to adopt stormwater fees as the City of Roanoke has done, she hopes that council will also include incentives and credits for citizens when their “footprint” is determined.
There was discussion of a possible increase to the transient occupancy (hotel) tax due to the town’s upcoming hotel marketing study. Several private and public sites are being considered for construction of a hotel if the study shows a need exists.
The lodging tax now stands at two percent in Vinton, much below rates in surrounding localities with Roanoke City having an eight percent tax and Roanoke County seven percent. Thompson recommended being pro-active rather than reactive.
The meals tax remains a steady source of revenue. Thompson said that each one percent in meals tax generally amounts to $110,000 in revenue. Vinton’s meals tax is currently five percent, comparable to surrounding localities.
Sales tax revenues are currently budgeted at $1.3 million. Thompson said that the sales tax revenues have grown about 18 percent since 2009 due to growth in Roanoke County while the town remains basically flat.
Lawrence updated council on downtown area projects. The town will be asking for a second extension of the Community Development Block Grant project until June 2016.
Council discussed plans for the recently purchased Gish’s Mill (Holdren’s Store). The town plans to involve citizens with a “public visioning process,” including an online survey. Lawrence said that currently the town is working to provide for the security of the property. Mayor Brad Grose said that since the structure stands at one of the gateways to the town, it needs to be made “presentable.”
Another soon-to-be vacant property came up for discussion—the current library on Washington Avenue which is owned by Roanoke County. Consensus seems to be building for recruiting a restaurant for the site.
Lawrence presented an update on the much-debated Skatepark project, now proposed for a site near the Walnut Avenue Bridge and Glade/Tinker Greenway trail. The town is awaiting word from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM), the “gatekeeper” for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the 10,000 square foot concrete pad for the park. The concrete pad is considered to be an impervious surface under stormwater regulations.
Lawrence said that the size of the pad could be reduced in half to be more amenable to FEMA and that the town already plans for skateboard ramps which could be removed if flooding is predicted along the creeks in the area.
The morning ended with dialogue about subsidies that kept the Vinton Municipal Pool open, the current business plan for the Vinton War Memorial which also requires large subsidies, and the exorbitant cost of Valley Metro services. A ridership survey of those using Valley Metro is almost complete which will enable council to make prudent decisions about the future of the bus service.
The final afternoon session of the retreat concluded with discussion of neighborhood and community spirit with new Greenway connections in the works, maintaining a “family-centric” focus, and the possibility of additional staffing to handle such complex issues as stormwater management.