Sat08302014

Last updateWed, 19 Nov 2014 8pm

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Foulds follows up on audit report with an update on the budget

Although auditor Billy Robinson of Brown Edwards & Company, LLP issued the Town of Colonial Beach a clean opinion for fiscal year 2013, at the Nov. 21 council work session, he cautioned the council, “The town really needs to examine more closely, how far off the tax projections were to the actual taxes collected. For property taxes, it was $122,000 less than budgeted (or projected), for other local taxes, it was $82,000 less than budgeted.”

Robinson told the council that the town’s budget showed a negative balance of $245,000 in the General Fund, “Which is an area of concern.” Robinson said that if this continues, the budget will continue to deplete the fund balance.

At the end of the work session, Town Manager Val Foulds addressed these warnings during an update of the status of the budget.

Foulds told the council that in the 2008/2009-audit report, the town’s expenses came in fairly high over the town’s revenues. Starting with the 2009/2010 Budget cycle, through the current year, Town Finance Director Joan Grant and Foulds have worked together. Foulds reported, “All budgets since, have always had revenue over expense.” Foulds went on to say that during the 2012/2013-Budget cycle, the town had fallen short for the first time since fiscal year 2009.

Foulds advised, “A couple of things are noteworthy; Joan has been extremely conservative in projecting tax revenues. We have been conservative in spending, as the auditor attested to this morning. We really try hard to be conservative.”

Foulds told the council that the 2012/2013-Budget was the first where she and Grant felt like they had no control. “We got huge recommendations [from council] based on data on what the tax revenue should be. We got a lot of input without a lot of feedback. It was not a two-way conversation about the 12/13-Budget.”  Foulds added that the 2012/2013 Budget was the first that she did not present to the council.  

Foulds said that she has, in the past, presented the budget, going over each line item and explaining any variances and why they are above or below the projected amounts. Foulds wants to return to that practice.

Sometimes staff has valuable information that explains why revenues are projected higher than what they may seem to be on the surface. For example, a few years ago, a lawsuit resulted in Verizon being awarded a substantial amount of money. In order to pay them back, the state withheld a portion of the communications tax from all the localities in Virginia.

Foulds said when council decides to change revenue projections, they should discuss it with staff to find out why the projections are different than what they believe they should be.

Earlier in the meeting, Robinson said many localities do what they can to set a balanced budget, but consciously use money from the fund balance to complete a project. Robinson warned, “If you’re going to do that, and I’m not saying you are, but don’t do it by making revenues appear to be larger than they actually are.” He also suggested that if this did occur, the town should keep records using a line item entitled “Use of Fund Balance.” Foulds suggested the town should put policy in place to replenish these funds, as soon as possible, after being used.

Foulds discussed two areas where the council made key decisions that resulted in a lack of funds.

The current council voted this year to consolidate the police dispatch with Westmoreland County over the Fourth of July weekend. Although the dispatch move has gone smoothly, the transaction has been less than cost effective.  

Foulds reported that the police dispatch has not been fully-funded at the level of the county agreement. Foulds also reported that there is no funding at this time for the erosion and sediment control functions performed by the county.

During a meeting in June of 2012, before he was mayor, Budget Committee Chairman Mike Ham proposed to transfer $55,000 from the General Fund line item - Contracts for Professional Services - which had been earmarked for an erosion and sediment stormwater mandate. The transfer of funds was to allow the town to “level fund” the school system.

The funds were originally earmarked to cover training and/or hiring a professional to comply with State mandates that required the town to update and adopt a new erosion and sediment control (ESC) program by December 31, 2012, and to implement a stormwater management program by July 1, 2014.

Ham was confident the money could be found when needed, and felt that level funding the school was more important than leaving the funds to sit until the town decided how to comply with the mandate.

However, lack of action resulted in building coming to a halt, due to the town’s non-compliance with the mandate in April of 2013.

Since funds were unavailable for an ESC professional to implement inspections and issue building permits, the town scrambled to enlist the services of the county. After many back and forth negotiations, Westmoreland County was dragged into performing these inspections.

However, responding to pressure from builders, the town negotiated a contract with the county to pay $500 per inspection and only charged the builders $100.

When asked, Foulds estimated the Erosion and Sediment Control bill would run between $15,000 to $30,000, depending on the building trends.

Foulds recommended that she and Joan come back to the council to advise the town again on these items in January.

The council will then have to make some hard decisions on how to fund these items.

Before ending the meeting, Councilman Jim Chiarello proposed making the two-hour parking lot on the Boardwalk near Riverboat a pay-to-park lot and the adjoining larger lot behind it a two-hour parking lot.

Foulds agreed and said she would prepare a document to bring to council to move that change along.

Chiarello also proposed revitalizing the old Police Building located on North Irving Ave. and moving the police back into that building to save on rent. Chiarello said that the town could also look for an office for building and zoning to move to, as well.

Foulds said that although she was not disagreeing or agreeing with the decision, she felt it would be best to include the police department in these talks, since the building could present problems that may cause the CBPD to lose its accreditation status.

Having accreditation opens the CBPD up to a number of grant opportunities that could cause the police to have to reduce staff or equipment.

Foulds also said the town needed to consider the cost involved in moving staff and equipment.

Mayor Mike Ham said the council needs to have one or more work sessions dedicated to the subject of what to do with all town-owned property, including Eleanor Trailer Park, and make decisions and a plan of action.

—Linda Farneth

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