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Votes

Sharpen Those Pencils

Council budget priorities include determining full costs of capital projects and checking competitiveness of staff payroll.

With the first draft of the Town of Herndon's proposed budget currently being organized by town staff for its due date at the end of March, council members have begun to examine their options for future capital projects, town staff payroll increases and real estate tax rates.

According to the town's charter, a copy of the proposed budget must be submitted to the mayor and town council for review by April 1. The budget will go into effect for fiscal year 2008 on July 1 of this year. Last year, Herndon's budget allowed for approximately $45 million in expenses.

"I think the staff has a pretty good indication of what the Town Council wants and where the public's priorities are," said Mary Touhy, director of finance for the Town of Herndon. "This council will obviously be different from last year's council in that there may be different priorities … but I don't see a marked change in the general budget."

Touhy said that this year's budget will particularly focus on staff payroll increases to increase its competition with other municipal government organizations in the region as well as infrastructure repairs.

"A lot of the big ticket items that we will deal with in the coming year involve maintenance of infrastructure and this town council is savvy to place their priority on this," she said.

RESIDENTS SHOULD not expect big capital improvement projects and construction in the coming fiscal year, said council member Bill Tirrell, citing the need to combat a flattening of tax revenue from residential real estate.

While official county real estate assessments won't be in until the end of the month, all indications are pointing to residential real estate appraisals in Herndon remaining unchanged and commercial real estate rising between five and 10 percent, according to county officials.

"I think that the [town] staff understands that the council doesn't want to spend a whole lot of money," Tirrell said. "In the next months we're going to have to take a look at what is required and match that with what we have and come up with a solid plan."

Keeping a budget that does not require a large amount of added expenses will be a top priority in the coming months said Mayor Steve DeBenedittis.

"We've seen the [real estate] assessments go up a lot over the years and people have really had to pay a lot of money so we'd like to see if we can get them a little relief," DeBenedittis said. "If we can hold the line on how much we're spending, it would be better for them."

To keep an eye on what Vice Mayor Dennis Husch called "the real price" of capital improvement projects, he will request a series of studies on additional costs like staffing, maintenance and utilities which will determine how much a project may cost over the course of a 20-year period.

"The point is, I want to discuss just how much we are going to be paying to have these facilities in town," he said. "I think almost all of our residents would be more interested to see how much everything will cost them in the long run."

SOME OF THE LARGEST amounts of money spent this year will most likely be in a reclassification of town staff payroll, according to Husch.

Late last year, the council heard from an independent consultant hired to look into staff payroll who suggested that the town raise certain staff payroll to make it more equivalent with other governments in the area.

"We need to make sure that we maintain a competitive pay scale here in the town to attract those good employees and keep them here," Husch said. "Everyone in the town deserves the best employees possible — so this will be a primary priority for me."

Special attention will be paid to downtown redevelopment and drainage issues in the historical district of Herndon, said council member Dave Kirby.

"Where we can afford it, I want to see if we can make the downtown a little more attractive and get some more businesses interested in coming here," said Kirby. "But then again, with this real estate market we are really going to need to prioritize as best as possible … without adding to the town's spending."

"I think we'll really tighten the belt this year and we're going to have a real good look at where we can use our resources in an efficient way."