The Colonial Beach Town Council, after a long wait, adopted the fiscal year 2014 budget with a total of $6,524,646 slated for town expenditures and anticipated revenue below that. The council passed several tax increases, but could not get enough votes to pass the proposed real estate increase of five-cents per $100 assessed value.
Transient lodging tax, or what is referred to as occupancy tax, is set to increase from 4 percent to 5 percent. Meals taxes, which affect all restaurant meals in the town, will increase the same. Cigarette taxes, which were formerly 25-cents per pack will increase to 30-cents, as well. All taxes will go into effect on Aug. 1 by request of Council Member Gary Seeber.
Initially the taxes were set to go into effect on July 1.
Due to the lateness of the ordinance being passed, it would have given local merchants just three days before the increase. Seeber asked to put the tax increase off because the stores in town that sell cigarettes would have several weeks of inventory with the former tax stamps already on them. He also stated that this would give everyone affected time to change their point of sale systems over to the new tax rates.
During the initial work session, council members discussed who would be willing to vote for which tax increases, and each vote came to a total of only four council members for each increase. Any tax increase requires a majority of five members to vote it in. In what has been called a voting block by some town citizens, council-members Jim Chiarello, Wanda Goforth, and Linda Brubaker all voted no on any real estate tax increase.
Mayor Mike Ham, Tim Curtin and Seeber stated they were against the increase in meals and lodging taxes, which left the council at an impasse. At this point, Seeber offered his vote for the increase in meals and lodging tax, if they would vote to decrease school funding by $50,000 and use that money to fund raises for town employees, and the cost of the erosion and sediment control.
Prior to that, Chiarello asked more questions on the school budget, such as why the superintendent was listed as getting a $360 raise for the year and why the school still owed money to the town. County Board of Supervisor’s member, Larry Roberson, who represents the town asked why Superintendent Kathleen Beane, and the school board, had not been invited to answer these questions.
Chiarello stated that he was only “bringing them to light” and that the answers were not going to change things. Seeber reminded the council that “even if they owe us, doesn’t mean they can give it back right now.” The town school system has been paying the town pack for several years due to owing money from former Superintendent Dr. Alice Howard’s time with the division.
When it came down to it, Curtin was visibly frustrated and spoke on behalf of the schools, stating, “We have to do something, the school came to use with a budget they had already cut” and “it galls me that there is a suggestion that we ask for any more cut from their budget!”
He also reminded the council that the budget crisis was not because of the school system, but because of the lack of tourist and business economy.
Curtin continued on that “while they may have acted too fast on the school budget,” they had agreed to fund the entire budget and should do so. He had spoke of infrastructure not being maintained, or repaired, and that the boardwalk, town buildings, sidewalks, streets, were in bad condition due to deferred maintenance.
The next council meeting is slated for July 11 at 7 p.m. in the town center. All meetings are open to the public.