Saturday morning, it was standing room only in the conference room of the Herndon Council Chambers. A chance to get an early peek at the town's budget brought out about 20 interested people. The work session was an outline of what the mayor and Town Council could expect when the budget is released in late March.
"We are not proposing a lot of bold new objectives with this budget," said Town Manager Steve Owen.
Instead, the hour-long session consisted mostly of a status report of projects within the various departments, some possible new personnel expenses, changes in funding for events and organizations from last year, and a proposal to help bring tax relief to elderly and disabled residents.
No bottom line figures were given; in fact, Owen said town staff was still in the process of creating the fiscal year 2005 budget.
The Town Council is expected to have a work session on the proposed budget Tuesday, April 6, at 7:30 p.m., followed by a public hearing Tuesday, April 13, also at 7:30 p.m. The council is tentatively scheduled to approve the FY 2005 budget April 27.
OWEN SAID THE TOWN is moving toward a dedicated zoning enforcement team, which is the top priority of the budget. To that end, the town is looking to add two new employees -- an inspector and an inspector assistant. In addition, an inspector already on staff will be bumped up to a supervisory position. If approved, it would bring the total number of employees dedicated to over-crowding issues to four — two inspectors, including the supervisor, and two inspector assistants who help with translation and other administrative work. A third inspector is responsible for other zoning enforcement issues and not solely used for over-crowding.
Councilwoman Connie Hutchinson expressed concern about creating an extra level of supervision, especially for two people.
Owen said by elevating one of the current inspectors to a supervisor, the town is giving that person authority to do the job he is already doing, namely coordinating the other inspectors.
The other council members seemed satisfied, as long as the position did not become a purely administrative one and instead, required the supervisor to still work in the field while fulfilling the needed administrative functions.
In all, Owen said he has received requests from the department heads for 13 new employees at an estimated cost of $537,000. However, he assured the council the proposed budget would not include all the requests.
"All the positions are under review," Owen said. "You will not see all 13 positions, even if we had $537,000 laying around. We will not be building the government up by that much."
AS FAR AS EMPLOYEES are concerned, Owen said the town would eliminate the COLA for non-sworn employees and discontinue the top-of-the-scale one-time bonus for employees. The budget will suggest a 3 percent market-rate adjustment, same as Fairfax County, for employees who at the time of their evaluation were at the top of the pay scale. Police will receive a 3 percent COLA and the town will maintain the 5 percent performance increase for sworn police personnel, both of which are in line with Fairfax County.
Also, said Owen, the pay-for-performance range will be adjusted, at the suggestion of Mayor Rick Thoesen.
"As for the pay-for-performance, unfortunately, Fairfax County got criticized its first time out ... because [several employees] ended up with a high percent," Thoesen said. "We need to look at the numbers and make sure it doesn't become a budget crisis. An employee has to understand, he or she may get sunshine in one area and may need improvement in another."
The budget will reflect an increase, from 1 percent to 5 percent, in the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) rates costing approximately $392,500; an increase from 0 percent to 1.14 percent in the VRS life insurance premiums, costing $34,430; an expected 15 percent increase in health insurance premiums causing an increase of $180,000; and the continuation of the town's contribution to the deferred compensation accounts of eligible employees of $20 per pay period. Thoesen however, would like to see the contribution raised to $25 if possible.
MISSING FROM the budget will be the annual citizen's opinion survey, which is proposed to become an every-other-year project. In its place, staff is suggesting hiring an outside consultant, at an estimated cost of $8,500, to conduct a focus group of residents to ensure the town is asking the right questions on the survey. The customer service bonus given to employees based on the results of the citizen’s survey will likewise be suspended. Suspending the bonus will save about $47,000.
Some other budget increases include the leasing of temporary trailers during the final phase of renovation at the Community Center at an estimated cost of $40,000; increasing the fund for inclusion services from $3,000 to $10,000. The services help provide special accommodations for residents with disabilities; an increase in funds for the Herndon Festival from $250,000 to $275,000. However, Owen said, weather permitting, revenues from the festival will offset this expense.
Also on the rise is the general liability and commercial liability umbrella insurance and property coverage, increasing from $130,000 to $183,800. Professional services in engineering, including inspections for Grove Street, Dominion Tech II and A/E Services, increased from $100,000 to $150,000. The recycling tipping fees and landfill charges have also gone up.
AS FOR the capital improvement program, Owen said the Planning Commission is in the process of reviewing a draft version. The commission is expected to have its first public hearing on the CIP March 1.
"I think we have some good news on the Community Center and can get going on that for 2005," Owen said. "I think we have the bonding capacity, if the council wants to go there."
The final phase of renovations for the Community Center was delayed to free up money to purchase and renovated a building on Herndon Parkway for the Police Department.
Councilman Dennis Husch suggested the Planning Commission not only review the CIP, but also provide their recommendations for the priority for the projects. Other projects expected to be scrutinized by the Planning Commission are the Cultural Arts Center, Police Station, Station Street improvements, vehicle and equipment replacement, Center Street realignment, storm drainage improvements, major maintain to town buildings and upgrades to information systems and technology.
OWEN SAID various organizations in town are requesting less in the way of grants compared to last year. In all, the town approved $236,604 in grants in fiscal year 2004, while requests for FY 2005 total $221,136.
In part, the decrease is due to the fact the town is not providing a grant for Reston Interfaith for an interim day-laborers site, Owen said.
Mary Tuohy, the town's director of finance, also suggested making adjustments to Herndon's policy on tax relief for the elderly and disabled residents. Tuohy suggested bringing it in line with the county's policy, which would provide up to 100 percent relief for applicant's whose total household income is $40,000 or less; 50 percent relief for household incomes between $40,001-$46,000; and 25 percent for household incomes between $46,001-$52,000. Herndon's policy only provides 100 percent to those with household incomes of $40,000 or less. It also raises the net combined financial worth limitation from $150,000 to $190,000.
In addition, Tuohy said the town waives decal fees for the elderly who qualify, but there are no provisions for the disabled.
"Staff would like to include people with disabilities, like the county does," Tuohy said. "We would like to include everyone who qualifies for relief."
Finally, Owen said the town would be receiving income from the unneeded portion of the future Herndon Police Station on Herndon Parkway. The current tenant of the office building has signed a rental agreement with the town to stay, at least temporarily. The Police Department is not anticipated to need the entire building immediately. Owen also said the town is looking at other surplus properties it may be able to sell.