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It’s now going to cost more to smoke cigarettes and lounge around in hotel rooms in Ashland.
Town Council unanimously approved its budget for Fiscal Year 2014 Tuesday night, which raises taxes on cigarettes and lodging to help fund the $8,073,000 operating budget and $3.2 million of capital projects.
Overall, the levy on a pack of smokes will jump from the current 19 cents per pack to 22 cents, while lodging will increase from 5 to 7 percent, a mark still slightly below greater Hanover County.
The two rate increases are expected to raise a combined $222,000, which, along with a $670,800 transfer from the town’s savings account, were used to balance the budget.
Driving the need for new revenue on the operating side were across-the-board cost of living raises for all town employees and a new position in the town’s engineering department to oversee Ashland’s mandated stormwater management program.
Before voting for the measures, Mayor Faye Prichard took exception to a recent editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch lambasting the town for its proposed tax increases and claiming that similar decisions are what cause the nation’s debt problems.
“They called us a ‘tax and spend’ council, and I want to be really, really clear here,” she said. “The Town of Ashland is in exactly zero debt, which…was not the case when, certainly, I arrived on the scene and not the case when most of the other council members arrived on the scene. We have taken this town out of any debt and decisions about taxes are very difficult ones for us, but we do it as the stewardship of the town.”
Ashland funds its capital projects through what they call a “pay as you go” model, where town council sets monies aside in each fiscal year for proposed projects and funds them in full. Many municipalities, including Hanover County, fund projects through bond issuances and pay an annual debt service, similar to the mortgage on a home.
“I think when something like that gets said about us in the paper, it’s not only that the truth is violated, but the spirit of the truth is violated as well,” Prichard said.
Councilman Steve Trivett rejected the notion that Ashland is trying to increase the scope of government through its recent budget.
“No one really likes taxes, but everyone likes services. So, we’re trying to maintain the services that we have been provided in this town,” he said. “I know people will say it’s just a matter of semantics, but [I don’t believe this budget] is growing the government, but is preserving the government we have at this time.
“We don’t have our own agenda as far as ‘well let’s raise taxes and grow the town government,’” Trivett added. “We have absolutely no gain for ourselves in what the size of government is in this town, but we do have a responsibility and a desire to try to do what’s best for the community.”
Trivett also urged citizens to participate in future budget processes.
“We want to hear from people. It’s your town. It’s your budget,” Trivett said.
The budget approved by council takes effect July 1 and runs until the end of June 2014.