City council

General and school funds, the city's taxes and wages, and JMU polling places were the topics discussed at Tuesday's Harrisonburg City Council meeting.

Proposed budget allocates 78% to general funds and schools

Interim City Manager Ande Banks presented Harrisonburg City Council with the first draft of the fiscal year 2022-23 budget in Tuesday’s meeting. All in all, the citywide budget adds up to $335.8 million, with a combined 78% of that going to general and school funds. 

Banks emphasized that this is just the first draft. As the Virginia General Assembly hasn’t yet approved next year’s state budget, he said, Harrisonburg, among other localities, must wait and see how much state funding it’ll receive. This means some funds are subject to change depending on state funding.

“That does have a significant impact on us and the schools to identify what type of revenue will be coming from the state to the locality, so that’s in limbo right now,” Banks said.

General funds were allocated $145,124,948, or 43% of the budget. Major revenues — most of the money that will go toward general funds — include real estate tax at 31.6% as well as sales tax and restaurant tax, which produce a combined 22.7% of general fund revenue. Harrisonburg City schools were the next largest beneficiary, projected to receive 35% of funds with $107,110,882 for schools and $4,977,692 for school nutrition.

While the council must allow a 30-day public comment period, the 2022-23 budget must be finalized and adopted by May 30, as the current fiscal year ends in Virginia June 30.

Taxes and wages in flux

Additionally, Banks discussed taxes and city wages as well. He proposed adding to Harrisonburg’s real estate tax, raising it from the current 90 cents to 93 cents per $100 — for a $100,000 house — this would mean an extra $30 in taxes. The proposed raise, later approved by the council, will be used to help pay for the Harrisonburg High School 2 (HHS2) project.

There was some debate over whether to advertise the real estate tax as 94 cents or 93 cents — the council can easily decrease the tax but would require a 30-day public comment period to raise it, Banks said — and the council approved the raise to 93 cents, with Council Member Laura Dent voting against the motion.

Dent said she wanted to approve the 94-cent tax to keep the council’s options open to decrease it to 93 cents. This was in response to Banks’ recommendation that the council not set the tax below 93 cents.

Banks also said the Virginia General Assembly is considering repealing the grocery sales tax, 1% of which goes to local government. He said the city estimates that adds up to $2 million annually, which could disappear.

“If that is passed, that will have a significant fiscal impact on the city’s operational budget,” Banks said. 

The draft of the budget includes about $1.9 million for wage increases for Harrisonburg employees. He proposed a 3% increase for all city staff, with an additional 2% increase for city workers on the front lines and in public safety, like police officers, firefighters and crisis communications staff.

“What I’ve seen is a need to address the additional risks that many of those frontline public safety employees see and live through day in and day out,” Banks said. 

JMU polling place on track to move to Godwin Hall

Banks requested that two ordinances, previously approved by the council March 8, be pushed out to go into effect July 1. One ordinance will change the city border, while the other will adjust boundaries between voting precincts within the city and move the JMU polling location, or voting precinct 105, from the Convocation Center to Godwin Hall.

He explained that the ordinances have to be approved by the state board of elections, which must approve ordinances from all state localities. Localities that will vote on a Congressional representative this election season are prioritized by the board. Banks said Harrisonburg Director of Elections Mark Finks is required to send out written notifications of the changes made by the ordinances at least 15 days before any election, and he may not receive state approval in time to do so before the Republican primary election set for June 21.

The council approved the motion to push the effective dates for both ordinances to July 1 while allowing the change to JMU polling location to proceed on schedule. Banks said this is because the Convocation Center won’t be available for the June primary.

Contact Charlotte Matherly at breezeeditor@gmail.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.