By Abigail Summerville
Lexington residents might not face a higher tax bill next year, City Manager Noah Simon said.
The proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 should be balanced without any tax increases, he said. The City Council will vote on the budget at its May 3 meeting.
“Based on our projections, we will break even,” he said. “But it all depends. A decline in one or more sources of revenues, excess spending, a non-budgeted project or need, or all of these and more could throw off that balance.”
The fiscal year 2018 budget included a 2 cent real estate tax increase. One cent was allocated for the debt service on the city’s portion of public safety radio equipment, and 1 cent was designated for general capital projects.
Alvin L. Carter, owner of Alvin-Dennis, a clothing store downtown, said he does not keep up with the city’s budget-making process.
“I always think taxes are too high, but I haven’t really looked at any budget,” he said.
Lately, Carter said his business has been losing revenue because of the increase in online shopping. But when told that the new budget proposal contains no tax increases, Carter said he was pleased.
Marie Plank, the services manager for Lexington’s visitor center, said she thinks the city’s current tax rates are acceptable.
“I do not think they’re too high,” she said. “I’m a Lexington resident of seven years. I moved here from Houston, Texas. [Taxes here] are just fine compared to a big city where taxes were high.”
With no tax hikes, the city’s budget for 2019 would have a “razor thin margin” for revenues and expenses, according to the budget document. To give the city a buffer, Simon said people need to contribute more to the local economy.
“We need new development and redevelopment, additional businesses in the city, more people spending money in the city on goods and services,” he said.
Lexington resident Erik Jones said new businesses could help attract visitors and boost city revenue. He said he wants to open a craft brewery in downtown Lexington sometime in the future.
“Virginia is one of the fastest growing beer markets in the country,” he said. “Our brewery would ideally help put Lexington on that list of beer places to visit and thereby contribute to tourism.”
In the fall, the city created an online budget visualization tool, which allows residents to follow the budget process and see how their tax dollars are spent.
There will also be three opportunities next month for residents to learn about and question the proposed budget.
Residents can attend a meeting on April 3 at City Hall, a breakfast at Sweet Treats Bakery on April 4 or the City Council meeting on April 5, which will focus on the budget.