The Town of Pulaski will host a series of public hearings on May 6 concerning amendments to the current town budget as well as next fiscal year’s budget proposal, garbage and water rates.
The hearings will begin at 7 p.m. in the Municipal Building in Pulaski.
Legal notice advertisements pertaining to the four hearings can be found inside this edition of The Patriot.
Due to the current COVID-19 shutdown and social distancing requirements, the town is allowing citizens additional ways to make their opinions known about the budget and rate proposals, aside from appearing at the hearings in person.
As noted in the advertisements, citizens may submit written comments through the mail and the Finance Department’s drop-off box at the Municipal Building.
Citizens may also respond electronically prior to the hearings by visiting the town’s website (www.pulaskitown.org) and posting comments under the page titled “Town Budget for Fiscal Year 2020-2021.” Comments will be forwarded to the Town Council for their review and consideration.
Council’s work session on Tuesday focused almost entirely on the town’s 2020-2021 budget proposal and cuts made due to the financial condition the town now finds itself in – and expected meals and sales tax revenue losses due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
Council reviewed Town Manager Shawn Utt’s budget proposal of $8.8 million – down significantly from the current year’s budget of $10.4 million.
Utt explained to council that he removed grant figures and several other items from the $10.4 million budget to get to what he considered a “base budget” of $9.7 million. From there he cut down to the $8.8 million proposed budget for 2020-21 through a series of departmental cuts and by creating a “set-aside” budget including some $430,000 in vacant positions in five department and capital improvement projects. Items Utt says the town will re-consider should revenue levels improve later in the summer and fall.
The “set-aside” budget roughly equals the amount the town has been told to expect in revenue losses from lower meals tax and sales tax revenues due to the virus.
Several on council expressed their pleasure and appreciation for Utt’s budget work.
Despite the town’s financial issues, Councilman Jamie Radcliffe said Pulaski is in a lot better shape than our neighbors.
“Right now, we’re in pretty good shape compared to jurisdictions around us,” he said. “I’d hate to be on council in Christiansburg or Radford or Blacksburg right now. They’re facing millions – not thousands – millions in [revenue] losses.”
One reason for Pulaski’s stronger position, he said, is due to fellow councilmembers Lane Penn, Greg East, Joseph Goodman and Mayor David Clark and “the work they put in through the years to get us here.”
“We’re in pretty good shape financially, not the greatest, but we’re going to be okay,” Radcliffe said.
“Pass the budget, get solid, keep our employees going and keep our citizens moving forward with the services they pay for. When it’s all said and done in June or July we can find out where we land [with revenues] and we can make adjustments in the budget,” Radcliffe said.
He pointed to two vacant positions in the Police and Fire Departments that he believes must eventually be re-instated in the budget from the set-aside, as well as some $7,000 in budget trimming in the Senior Center.
Goodman clarified that if revenue figures improve, items in the budget “set-aside” can be considered for funding. But if revenues don’t improve, items in the “set-aside” won’t be done.
“And this budget proposal includes no layoffs,” Goodman added.
Noting some areas of the budget proposal had been cut to the bone, Goodman proposed that Utt put together a priority list of items in the “set aside” budget so if council sees revenue figures tracking well, it can start restoring some of the items.
“Things that affect operations can be prioritized higher,” he said.
Goodman praised Utt for his budget work.
“Overall, I’m impressed,” he said. “I challenged you to cut and challenged you further. I think this [budget proposal] is a good round one to take into the summer when we will have a better idea where revenues are. One seed I want to plant – this budget doesn’t put any money back into reserves. So, when we look at this in the summer, that’s one thing we need to start considering.”
Councilman Brooks Dawson agreed.
“I appreciate the work done and, with revenues like they are, I have no heartburn with this budget the way it is,” Dawson said, adding he thinks the budget should always be “tight.”
Vice Mayor Greg East noted the budget for next fiscal year will – more than any other – “require a lot of attention to get us through this new process and all the unknowns.”
He also reminded that council needs to pay back the unassigned reserve funds to meet and exceed the recommendations of the auditors on reserves.
“We can’t forget that. We’ve got a ways to go,” East said.
By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot