Hurt Town Council’s June monthly business meeting included a public hearing for the proposed fiscal year 2021-22 operating budget. However, no citizens spoke during the public hearing. After minimal discussion and on a motion by Vice-Mayor Shirley Barksdale-Hill, seconded by Finance Committee Chairman Steve Watson, the vote was unanimous to grant preliminary approval for the $962,457 budget proposal as presented. The total budget amount represents about an almost 9% increase over the current fiscal year’s budget of $883,332.
Following this action and in keeping with state procedural requirements, Council plans to hold a called meeting June 15 at 6:00 PM to issue final approval. The new budget becomes effective July 1 and covers the fiscal cycle ending June 30, 2022. A full-detail budget spreadsheet is available on the town website at: townofhurtva.gov/administration
No tax or fee increases were included to balance the town’s general operating fund in the upcoming fiscal cycle. The fund sustains all general services at or near current levels, with no big-ticket item purchases anticipated.
Balancing the enterprise fund, however, involves a 31.87% rise in the town’s volumetric water rate. Beginning next month, Hurt utility customers will pay $12.00 per 1,000 gallons of water used, compared to the current $9.10 per 1,000 gallons. No change is planned for the $24 quarterly base charge.
The increased volumetric rate is mainly attributable to: (1) Altavista’s yearly increases in its rate to Hurt, (2) funding a $1.6 million capital improvement project deemed necessary by the health department to address water quality concerns, and (3) covering the ever-increasing costs of maintaining, repairing, and upgrading a water system that is nearing 40 years of age.
Effects of the new rate on any given customer are expected to be proportionate with the amount of water used by each household or business. For example, a low-volume user drawing 3,000 gallons in a quarter would pay $60 with the new rate vs. $51.30 at the old rate (a difference of $8.70). By contrast, a high-volume user pulling 30,000 gallons in a quarter would pay $384 with the new rate vs. $297 at the old rate (difference of $87).
Mayor Gary Hodnett provided an update on the pending water system project, noting that a Zoom meeting and an official letter of award for the contractor were pending later in the week.
During a follow-up call yesterday, he confirmed that all requisite documents have been received from the health department, and he had just presented Compton & Nichols with the signed letter and phase I construction contract earlier in the day.
Work is expected to commence as soon as materials are procured and assuming no weather delays, hopefully within the next few weeks. Engineers are now turning attention toward design and planning for phase II.
For the remainder of his report, Hodnett urged everyone to be thinking about additional projects the town could potentially do for community development and encouraging public involvement.
Examples included holding more family-oriented community events, using Federal CARES Act funds to make improvements at Roosevelt Mattox Park (e.g. electrical upgrades and improved sheltering for the gazebo and stage areas), and establishing a farmers’ market. Councilman Donney Johnson added that a lack of handicap access to the gazebo is a concern.
In other matters, Town Attorney John Eller presented Council with a draft indemnification agreement with Norfolk Southern that will permit town personnel to paint over unsightly graffiti at the one-lane underpass along W. Hurt Road. He also presented an engagement letter with Gentry-Locke Attorneys in Roanoke that will retain specialized counsel on an as-needed basis for matters pertaining to solar energy law. Both agreements were approved unanimously.
Treasurer Ellen Brumfield apprised Council that she is reviewing employee VRSA options for next year that should offer a net savings for the town. She also discussed an upcoming change in insurance program providers from Local Choice to Cardinal, with the transition expected to occur late this year.
Hodnett then added that Brumfield and Clerk Kelsie Sligh are also working to improve the process of mapping tax data from Pittsylvania County into Hurt’s new software system, including the handling of abatements.
In yesterday’s follow-up phone call, the mayor noted that staff members are meticulously combing through county spreadsheets before information is entered into the town’s database. This is being done to correct a problem that has frustrated everyone involved for many years − correct separation of Hurt mailing addresses that are and are not inside the town limits.
The Hurt ZIP code covers a large portion of northern Pittsylvania County; however, only a small fraction of that (approximately three square miles) falls within the town’s corporate limits and thus would be subject to town governance and taxation. Consequently, inadvertent crossovers between county and town tax billing are a sizable source of confusion and extra workload.
Turning to utilities, Public Works Coordinator Colleen McGrath reported increased customer usage of the town’s new online PSN option for paying water bills via the website. She noted that for the most recent billing cycle, 47% of accounts were paid within the first two weeks after billing and that nearly half of those were made using PSN.
Additionally, McGrath communicated that the new cellular water meters are performing well and that additional staff training for the accompanying software is forthcoming. She further noted that the program updates readings electronically about every 15 minutes and is thus excellent for tracking leaks, citing 23 that have been detected since the new system went online.. Johnson added that he had received appreciative feedback from a citizen whose water bill is lower as a result of an unknown leak being found.
Lastly, Hodnett and fellow council members extended thanks to everyone who contributed to the success of the Memorial Saturday event on May 29 and shared their support for future events.