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An increase on taxes levied on smokes and hotel rooms will help balance the proposed Ashland budget. But few smokers or hotel guests were in attendance, apparently, as Town Council held its public hearings on both the town’s proposed $8,072,917 budget and the levy increases May 7.
Instead, public safety and Ashland’s history were on the mind of the night’s two speakers.
Woody Tucker, a member of the Ashland Museum’s executive board, lobbied for a onetime appropriation of $3,000 to enable the museum to purchase a digital projector and to install phone and Internet. He said the investment will help the museum better meet needs of a curious public.
“We feel that based on the participation of folks both in town and out of town that we’ve created a real footprint in Ashland and I think one, frankly, that’s been long overdue,” Tucker said. “We would like to increase that footprint.”
The museum hopes to be able to give workshops and history presentations and to increase its research capability.
Speaking on behalf of the Ashland Police Department’s advisory board, Rob Stiles praised Chief Douglas Goodman’s budget creativity. Overall the APD’s portion of the proposed budget constitutes $2.3 million, roughly 30 percent of overall town spending. According to Stiles, 88.5 percent of this total funds officers in the field.
Going forward, Stiles requested council to improve staffing levels and to address a disparity in pay among supervisory and commanding ranks, which he said falls well behind Metro-Richmond jurisdictions.
“These are our senior officers who have dedicated many years to this town and to the citizens and we need to retain them…for the future,” he said.
According to Town Manager Charles Hartgrove, the tax on cigarette sales is proposed to increase by 3 cents from the current 19-cent levy to 22 cents per pack of smokes, a move estimated to raise nearly $50,000 for town coffers.
The budget also raises the tax on lodging from 5 to 7 percent, which is still slightly below lodging levels in surrounding Hanover County. Town officials estimate this will generate approximately $172,000.
In addition to those revenue increases, Ashland’s budget transfers $670,000 out of the town’s savings account to cover operational expenses.
Driving the need, in part, for additional revenue is the addition of a new civil engineer charged with overseeing the town’s stormwater management program mandated by higher levels of government. The town is also proposing a 3 percent across-the-board cost of living increase (town council excluded) for all town employees at an approximate cost of $107,997 to Ashland taxpayers. This is the first such raise since the budget approved in 2008.
The proposed budget’s investment in capital projects tallies in at $3.2 million over the next fiscal year, $300,000 over last year’s plan.
Overall, the $8,072,917 plan marks a 2.3 percent increase over the budget amended in March.
Town council will vote on its budget at its next meeting May 21, which will then take effect July 1.