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What's New in Budget?

In advance of May budget meetings, council members cite priorities.

With just a little more than three weeks before town staff is due to submit a draft budget proposal for fiscal year 2008, Vienna department heads, council members and the mayor are eyeing a flattening revenue source and potential increases in town programming while attempting to maintain stable residential taxes.

The town staff is scheduled to deliver its draft budget proposal to council members on April 6, with a copy being released to the public on April 11, according to town officials.

The working budget is in the final assembly stages, as the town manager and representatives of Vienna's financial and administration departments review requests from each of the town's departments and priority lists from elected officials, according to administrative services director Nancy McMahon.

When it is delivered to council members and the mayor next month, they will review it and work with staff to refine portions of it, if desired, at a series of as many as three public work sessions taking place in mid-April. After a final draft is put together, it will go before council at a public forum on May 7, where the community will have the opportunity to comment on its content before the budget is voted on June 4.

The budget for fiscal year 2008 stretches from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008.

WHILE THERE ARE no requests for new staff positions being considered for the coming year's budget at this time, an increase in general operating costs is expected as energy prices continue to rise and a the town looks to open new community program offerings for area residents, McMahon said. It is unclear at this moment whether this year's budget will be higher than last year's that totaled approximately $28 million. No total figures have been assembled as of yet by staff, McMahon said.

"We're conservative when it comes to our budget," McMahon said, referencing a lack of requests for new municipal employees this year. "We always work very hard to do what we can to keep the costs down for our residents."

Still, there are some potentially new additions to the budget that Vienna officials will consider this spring.

"This year, there has been a focus on the town green and town beautification," she said, underlining that staff and council have requested a review of possible increases to programming funds of Vienna's Parks and Recreation Department to manage and implement activities at the new multi-million dollar town green, slated to open on May 12.

Town staff members are looking to form more partnerships with local businesses and community organizations to offset those increases as much as possible, according to Cathy Salgado, director of Vienna's Department of Parks and Recreation.

"Some of our programs [for the town green] will be sponsored by local businesses and organizations, so we'll have a lot of volunteers who will be working at these events," Salgado said. The idea, she added, is to keep costs down through creative means while getting more residents involved with local groups and businesses and building up a positive reputation for the town green.

McMahon added that some increases incurred last year, such as municipal health insurance premiums, would not be experienced this year.

STILL, THESE potential increases to town programming will be managed against a flattening tax base, as combined Fairfax County residential and non-residential real estate assessments for Vienna were up a little more than one and one half percent over the course of the last year, according to figures from town manager Mike Schoeberlein. Residential properties in town were actually down a little more than one half of one percent in that time, he added.

In contrast non-residential assessments were up a little more than 10 percent in the same period, Schoeberlein said. Vienna's ratio of residential to non-residential properties is approximately 80-20, he added.

"The property tax is looking to be a little flatter than normal, so I don't see a very large number of extra items this year on the budget," said Mayor Jane Seeman, adding that she wants to put a priority on maintaining town infrastructure with money for capital improvement projects.

For council member Mike Polychrones, the priorities should lie in keeping taxes down but still putting enough money aside to maintain the town's water system.

"I want to make sure that we always have enough funds so that our water system is maintained and managed well," Polychrones said. "I think the real challenge, as always, is to balance all of our necessities and still maintain a stable tax rate."

While keeping taxes at a stable and reasonable level is at the top of the priority list for council member Edythe Kelleher, she said that she has requested that staff look into the possibility of finding specialized revenue to purchase professional video equipment so that council meetings can be broadcast on public access television.

"It's important for citizens' access, and we have several residents who are older and drive, so this would give them that access," Kelleher said. "I just think that anything we can do to look into deals we have [with businesses] and possible volunteers to operate this system would benefit the town."