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Martinsburg loses appetite for leftovers in new budget

March 29, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The 2000-2001 Martinsburg budget that was passed Monday ends a recent trend of relying on uncertain revenue.

For about five years, the city budget has included substantial amounts from the unencumbered fund balance, which is money from the previous year, according to Mark Spickler, Martinsburg's finance officer. The 1999-2000 budget had $1.54 million from that account.

Next year's budget does not include the fund balance as a revenue source, a change Mayor Earnest Sparks applauded. "That just makes good sense," he said.

"It makes it hard to budget when you have no idea what is going to actually come in," he added.

"It's not a good budget practice," Spickler said.

Instead, the city is expecting more tax revenue.

Next year's budget includes $3.1 million in business and occupation tax revenue. This year, $2.5 million was budgeted, but $2.9 million is expected.

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Increased revenue also is expected from garbage fees and from property and state utility taxes.

The city council approved the 2000-2001 general fund budget at $7.4 million. Another $1.75 million worth of items are on hold. They are comprised of $1.6 million in budget requests from city departments and $146,000 in funding requests from nine outside agencies.

The council will consider those requests after the new fiscal year begins on July 1, according to City Manager Mark Baldwin.

Sparks said some agencies haven't submitted requests yet, so the figures should grow.

Spickler said there will probably be a fund balance of "a couple hundred thousand dollars" next year, but it wasn't part of the revenue used to balance the budget.

City tax bills will drop next year because an excess levy that funds nine police officer positions and related equipment will not be imposed because the fund has a large surplus.

A proposal to extend the levy for three more years, starting in 2001, will be on the June ballot, alongside council and mayoral candidates. Over three years, the levy would generate an estimated $2 million, according to Spickler.

If the levy fails, some or all of the positions will likely be eliminated, city officials have said.

In 1999-2000, the city tax bill for a property assessed at $100,000 is about $168.84, Spickler said. That covers $105.84 in property taxes and $63 for the levy.

For 2000-2001, the property tax on the same house would go up to about $110.52, but there will be no levy, he said.

The following years, using the 2000-2001 property tax rate and assuming the excess levy is reinstated by voters, the same homeowner would pay about $110.52 in property taxes and $63 for the excess levy, a total of $173.52, according to Spickler.

Those figures do not include county taxes.

The biggest projects in the 2000-2001 budget are the possible demolition of vacant buildings and the paving of city streets, Spickler said. About $1 million for the latter was allocated in this year's budget, and $500,000 to $600,000 has been spent so far, he said.

Otherwise, next year's budget is "nothing but basic operations," he said.

The $1.7 million in other requests includes $606,000 from the fire department, which has proposed hiring three new firefighters. The list also includes $166,500 for city employees' raises and $166,000 for two sanitation trucks.

Sparks offered no prediction of which items may make it into the budget.

However, Spickler said the pay raises and street paving (figured at $200,000) are probably top priorities.

Requests that require ongoing funding, such as new firefighter positions, should not use money from the fund balance, he said.

The city council also approved a coal severance tax budget of $31,000, a police levy fund budget of $820,000, a water and sewer fund budget of $2.6 million and a parking fund budget of $320,000.

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