At its February 25th work session Town Administrator Marthat Semmes reported that the latest draft of Middleburg’s General Fund Expense Budget for Fiscal Year 2017 totaled roughly $3 million, around an eight percent increase over the preceding year.
Noting that the draft projected only a seven percent increase in revenue, Semmes reiterated her traditionally cautious approach to revenue estimates. “Revenue derived from Salamander’s property taxes and tax-revenue-producing operations were always a question mark,” she said, noting that, on the positive side, “ they continued to exceed the Town’s expectations.”
While Middleburg’s property tax assessments were up nine percent last year, she said, they were up only 5.8% this year.
The bulk of the decrease, Semmes suggested, was an appropriate decline in the taxable assessed value land owned by Salamander that had been zoned but has not yet been developed. Once houses are constructed on that land, the assessed value will increase.
Based on her conservative estimates, Semmes draft projects an equalized property tax rate of sixteen cents, a penny lower than the current rate. That penny decrease, she noted, equaled roughly thirty-one thousand eight hundred dollars less revenue.
Semmes reminded Council that the amount of the town’s “contingency reserve” or emergency fund would change as the budget evolved. It currently stands at about $232,000.
In the weeks and months ahead Council faces decisions on whether to sell or improve several town properties including the Health Center Building: technology investments from street lighting to parking meters; if, when, where and how to move its police department and town offices; and funding options and requests related to worthy events, programs and causes, including the old Zion Church building, the Middleburg Museum, and support facilities made redundant by the removal from service of one of the Town’s water wells.
Construction and Its Discontents
Business people, residents, friends and visitors to Middleburg continue to bear up and soldier on as the Virginia Department of Transportation completes construction on the Middleburg portion its “Route 50 Streetscape Project” and the Town improves its water distribution system.
During a work session discussion Council member Shea noted pointedly that “the Town needed to make sure it was doing all it could to help the businesses.” Last year, she noted, when work was being done on Liberty Street, the sidewalk was closed for weeks. “Something like that could make or break a business,” she noted.
In the midst of what all appear to agree is a mess worth suffering through in the long run, there have been points of light.
Restaurants, Water, and Dishes
As businesses are connected to the Town’s new water lines, for example, water becomes unavailable for hours. Councilmember Kevin Hazard and Town Administrator Semmes reported pleas from the Red Horse Tavern and the Red Fox Inn requesting that, if possible their water be turned off later than the currently scheduled 9:00 p.m. cut-off times so they could get their dishes washed in time to open the next day.
Semmes explained that the water project contractor had already decided to maker water connection changes for restaurants at night in an effort to have as little impact as possible, and would work with the owners to begin work as late as possible. They had managed the Trotters Perk Bistro connection, she noted on the day they were closed.
Police Chief A. J. Panebianco also credited project manager Jovi Alves, whom he described as “an asset to the community,” for doing “some significant behind-the-scenes work to make sure there was parking on the streets”
Though the community was being heavily impacted by the project, Panebianco continued, “it would be worse without Mr. Alves,” who, in his view, clearly “cared about the community and has told him that he wanted the project to have as little impact as possible, while still getting the work done. “
Town Planner Moore reported that Salamander presented its first draft of the design guidelines to the Historic District Review Committee for the new homes planned for their already-zoned residential development.
Council member Trowbridge Littleton reported that, in his view, “the models looked nice.”
Town Planner Moore noted that the HDRC “was taking this very seriously as they understood the large effect of this development on the community” confirming that “ they would look at the guidelines in detail.”