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City Unveils 2004 Budget Proposal

Tax rate increases would fund Blenheim and school renovations.

In order to pay for future projects as well as keep the city afloat, Fairfax City manager Bob Sisson suggested in Tuesday’s budget presentation to the City Council several tax-rate increases for the city budget for FY ‘04. The increases would help fund future projects such as the Blenheim restoration and the renovation design plans for Fairfax High School and Lanier Middle School.

The proposed budget includes the creation of a cellular tax, the increase of the cigarette tax from 30 cents to 50 cents per pack, a meals tax increase from 2 percent to 4 percent, and a raise in CUE bus fare from 50 cents to 75 cents. The budget also includes raising the contribution for the open space fund from 3 cents per $100 assessed real-estate tax value to the full 5 cents per $100.

Total expenditures for 2004 are figured at $98,897,974, while total revenue and transfers are $99,719,841.

The City Council heard these suggestions for the first time at Tuesday’s meeting and will consider these options over March and early April. They will meet nine times to discuss the proposal. Some of these meetings will be public hearings and budget outreach meetings.

"You have significant challenges this year," Sisson told the Council.

The city designed the budget so that it could save money for future projects such as the Blenheim restoration, open space acquisition and the design plans for Fairfax High and Lanier Middle. The difference between the revenue and expenditures, around $900,000, will go toward reserve for debt service, which helps pay for these projects.

The fare increase for the CUE bus comes in part from a shortfall, as the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) had in previous years mistakenly allotted $1.7 million to the city when it should’ve gone to the county. The DMV collects and redistributes tax revenue from car rentals. The $1.7 million that the DMV had given to the city actually originated from car rental companies located in the county, not the city. The actual amount that the city will receive from the DMV for this tax is $250,000.

The proposed tax-rate increases come at a time when the General Assembly may consider revising the authority for cities to have such taxes for cigarettes and cellular phones, Sisson said.

"I felt constrained from recommending any high real-estate tax … increases," Sisson said. "If we don’t capitalize [on these taxes] … the General Assembly may place a lid."

Built into the budget discussion are several outreach meetings for Fairfax citizens to learn more about the budget process. The meetings are scheduled for March 24 at Fairfax High School and March 30 at Old Town Hall. Both meetings will start at 7 p.m. Citizens will also have an opportunity to speak during the public hearing portions of Tuesday City Council meetings.

Fairfax mayor Rob Lederer hoped citizens would attend the sessions, as they received their real-estate tax assessment before the budget process. The average assessment increase was 13.6 percent.

"It’ll be interesting to see the difference that may create," Lederer said.