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It's decision time, Mr. Fredericksburg Taxpayer

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Date published: 4/4/2013


THOUGH the city of Fredericksburg will need an extra $1 million to balance just this year's budget, over the next five years it will need millions more in added revenue for services and capital projects. Taxpayers need to understand this so they can signal how much they are willing to pay for these services and amenities.

The biggest costs in the five-year budget are salaries and benefits. Over such big pieces of the latter as health insurance and retirement the city has limited control. While revenue is expected to rise, an extra $11.5 million over the next five years will still be needed. One area where we have some flexibility is capital projects.

Some added infrastructure funding is needed for Walker-Grant Middle School, the water-treatment plant, Motts Run Reservoir, and water and sewer in College Heights. Other projects planned include the riverfront park, another parking deck, and restoration of historic Renwick Courthouse.

The new courthouse exemplifies a project's potential impact on the budget. The courthouse project's annual debt payment totals $2.1 million, plus $1 million for operations. These costs bring the city's total judicial budget, including courts and jails, to $9,539,000--11.5 percent of the budget. Before the courthouse project began, Fredericksburg's budget in these areas was already double the state average. It will increase still more.

While the city counts 6 percent of the region's population, it pays 22 percent of the regional jail costs. This is because localities are responsible for people arrested within their boundaries, and many non-city residents come to Fredericksburg to act up. This year, jail costs are rising $448,045. During the next 20-plus years, the region's population is projected to double, so expect continued cost increases.

Also, the state's underfunding of "constitutional officers," such as judges, leaves localities to make up the gap. The state declines to fund the 3.5 added sheriff-deputy positions needed to provide security for the new court facilities, leaving the $241,000 tab for city taxpayers. Again, regional growth will only increase costs. Will these expenses be passed to city taxpayers? Or will the city make cuts? Or will it defer projects? All three options come with a price.

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