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Hearing Brings Out Supporters, Ax Wielders

The first round of Town of Herndon FY 2003 budget hearings, held Tuesday, April 9, generated comments from the public calling for increased spending, additional taxes, reduced spending and reduced taxes.

A $37 million preliminary budget was presented by Town Manager John "Ed" Moore, both in written form available for review by the public at the municipal building as well as orally during the April 9 public hearing.

Prior to the public’s comments, Moore said due to Sept. 11 there were additional pubic safety requirements as an explanation for some of the increased costs. Moore defended the 21 percent budget increase over last year by saying the increase based upon recurring expenses is what matters most, and that was a two to three percent increase.

Town Councilman Dennis Husch remained unsatisfied with Moore’s "non response," regarding the specifics of the public safety cost increases.

Moore said he would have to get back to Husch.

FOLLOWING MOORE’S presentation and council query, the public stated its case.

"Every dollar is important," said HCTV-23 president David Sullivan, in calling for an increase in its grant from the town. "We broadcast over 60 meetings a year, such as this one" as well as programming with the mayor, state delegate, state senator and supervisor. Sullivan said that HCTV-23, which will broadcast the upcoming candidates’ forum on Monday April 29, "depends on the town for funding. We are non-commercial. Our volunteers do it all," he said, adding that HCTV-23 shows Herndon High School sports and local events such as Taste of the Town, the homecoming parade, the jazz festival, the blues festival and the Herndon Festival. HCTV-23 is slated for an $85, 310 grant, down about 5 percent from last year.

Former Town Councilman Richard Downer recommended that the town "explore alternative revenue sources. Herndon has the highest combined tax rate — $1.34 in Virginia." The two sources he suggested, but "not for this year’s budget, because there’s not enough time, are the B-POL tax and a meals tax."

A business and professional license tax could be achieved with "special legislation in Richmond. It would put us on an equal footing with other jurisdictions. It should be used for real estate rate reduction — it benefits owners of single family homes," said Downer, aiming for local taxpayer relief.

"Take a serious look at a meals tax. People come here, use our services and leave. We can’t be the odd man out here," said Downer, noting that the communities of Vienna, Leesburg, Manassas, Fairfax City and Arlington County have a meals tax. "Have our visitors help out," he said.

Vine Street resident Arthur Nachman, a member of the new Herndon Business Association called for a reduction in spending, citing examples. The hiring of a consultant by the Herndon Police Department he said was unnecessary. "The town has a police chief, town manager and council. Have that stricken from the budget."

Nachman addressed the expense of the proposed cultural arts center, having attended recent meetings about the center. There’s $4 million in the budget allocated for the arts center in FY 2003. Town Councilman Richard "Rick" Thoesen said it would cost up to $8 million, said Nachman. "I recommend using its [Herndon’s] bonding capacity instead. Postpone this until we have flexible bonding capacity then do it all at once," he said, using as examples, the Centennial Golf Course and the municipal building.

"The money belongs to the people. Give our money back," said Nachman.

"THE TOWN COUNCIL is like a board of directors — it’s one of the top three businesses in the town limits and the taxpayers are the stockholders," said Hands, Inc. owner Joe Wyzkoski, also a member of the Herndon Business Association.

"The town is in an excellent position. The position of the taxpayers over the last 12 months has been painful. My staff is not getting a bonus or a raise — that’s reality. I’ve heard a lot of stories of salaries cut or people laid off," he said.

"You control a $37 million budget, and you’re part-time," said Wyzkoski to the council about that governing body. He referred to the budget costs for personnel in the Town employ — $22 million for a 245-person Town of Herndon staff. "That’s over $80,000 per employee. Those are staggering numbers to a little businessperson like myself. Now’s the time to make future changes," he said.

Herndon residents Pat Voltmer and Nancy Myers, both on the board of Herndon Dogs, Inc. were joined by Bill Marr, the attorney representing Courts of Chandon, each calling for the town to meet its commitment to the organization and keep the funding for the future dog park in the Capital Improvement Program.

The Herndon Town Council will hold a second public hearing on the budget on Tuesday, April 23 at its 7:30 p.m. meeting.