Roanoke faces lean budget in 2018

City is dealing with millions in cuts and has to find new revenue sources.

By Rob Manch - Reporter

ROANOKE - Roanoke City Council is moving forward with a thin budget for fiscal year 2018. 

The changes come in more than $4 million in funding, which the city is having to make up with cuts and new sources of revenue. 

So far, the city has approved a new solid waste fee beginning next year, as well as a cut in funding for the Endowment for the Arts. 

These cuts were not something any of Monday night's speakers wanted to hear, but the city says, the money has to come from somewhere.

City Council member Dr. David Trinkle says "This was a very tough budget year." He says it was the cut in funding to arts funding that was hard for him to swallow; "...The arts and cultural organizations provide education to our K through 12 kids. Tourists come here for that, Deschutes comes here for arts and culture, so it's jobs. I just think it's important to keep funding it."

The city cuts its funding for the endowment in half this year, down to $62,500 from  the original $125,000. 

It also cut requests for four new police positions, one fire position, eight social services positions, and two 911 call center positions. "How can we cut the personnel funding that we're cutting, how can we cut EMS, how can we cut fire and not also put this on-hold until we see whether the revenue is there?" said council member Ray Ferris. 

Ferris says that amidst all the reductions, he's still sympathetic to the arts, but also offered an ominous message. "I am absolutely, 100 percent in favor of putting it back in, in its original $125,000, if the revenue projections turn out to be accurate, but if they're not accurate, this isn't the only thing that's going to get cut."

The city will be raising parking costs downtown. But it was the solid waste fee that say more unanimous support from City Council. Dr. Trinkle says "Other communities have done it, have been doing it for decades. We need revenue, unfortunately, because taxes are decreasing."
However, the public wasn't as enthusiastic about the fee. Fee opposer Benjamin Bristoll says "The people with the big mansions have a lot more income right? But it's the same amount they're being charged, whereas if they just raised the same amount of money through just increasing the real estate tax rate a little bit, more of that cost would be paid by people with higher income."
But Ferris says it was only two years ago that the city did raise real estate taxes.
He says now, it's time to try something else remarking, "Everybody uses the solid waste system, at least if you own a home or if you're renting an apartment that has that service, you're using that system, and we believe at least part of it should be an even charge across the board."
The city says all of the reductions this year are part of a decline in sales tax. This past year, Roanoke saw a $1.9 million drop in sales tax revenue, something they attribute to an increase in online sales. 

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