Windsor approves cigarette, meals tax increase
Windsor Mayor Carita Richardson cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of raising the town’s cigarette tax and meals tax during the Town Council’s meeting on Tuesday. Prior to her intervention, the vote stood at 3-3 with council members Walter Bernacki, Patty Flemming and Tony Ambrose voting in favor of the tax increase and Greg Willis, Durwood Scott and N. Macon Edwards III opposing it. The vote was taken following a public hearing at which no one spoke for or against either tax.
With the tax increases now approved, effective July 1 the town’s cigarette tax will increase from 25 cents per pack to 30 cents per pack, and the town’s meals tax will increase from 5 percent to 6 percent. According to Town Manager Michael Stallings, the tax increases are intended to balance out the decrease in revenue from the town’s bank franchise tax due to the sale of Citizen’s National Bank, and to adjust for the ever-increasing cost of providing services to town residents. The town anticipates an additional $10,000 per year from the cigarette tax increase and an additional $40,000 per year from the meals tax increase.
“I’m not in favor of raising taxes,” Edwards said. “We’ve had a surplus every year. It’s hard for me to raise a tax when we have this much money sitting in the bank.”
Stallings clarified that the town’s surpluses in past fiscal years might not be as large as they seem. Some of the surpluses, he said, included money that had been allocated to a specific project that the town did not begin that year.
Willis said that he felt the tax increases did nothing more than keep the town revenue neutral.
“The franchise tax we lost with the bank was pretty strong revenue, plus our wage increases cost the town about $20,000, the health insurance went up as well,” he said.
Bernacki added that, “No one likes to increase taxes but in light of the decisions we’ve made and the things coming up, I think it’s in our best interest to plan for some of these deficits and some of those unknowns such as the possible change notices in the town center. At least we’re prepared.”
In addition to approving the tax increases, the council also voted, this time unanimously, to adopt the proposed 2018-2019 water rate schedule, which increases the town’s water rate to $7.50 per 1,000 gallons, a 25-cent increase over the current rate. The new minimum water bill for those connected to the town’s system will be $26.25 every two months. The town’s overall 2018-2019 operating budget of $1.784 million and capital improvements plan for fiscal years 2018-2019 through 2022-2023 were also approved unanimously.
In other business, Stallings updated the members of council on the renovations to the Windsor Town Center. Most of the potential change orders to the project under consideration would result in a credit rather than an additional expense, he said. However, the potential change orders that Bernacki referenced in his comments on taxes, which could result in additional costs to the project, include adding motorized basketball goals to the gymnasium, replacing the lower windows and replacing the mechanical room doors.
The motorized basketball goals carry a cost of $9,500. The replacement of the lower windows was deemed necessary after it was discovered that the existing panes were plexiglass and would adversely affect the heating and cooling performance of the new HVAC system. An examination of the mechanical room also revealed that the doors would not remain operable in their current, used condition. The town is waiting for contractor pricing on replacing the windows and doors, and no change orders have been approved to date. Therefore, the cost for the entire project remains at $1,120,833.
The council also approved and authorized Richardson to sign its latest draft of a letter to the Virginia Department of Transportation informing the department that the town continues to have concerns regarding safety along the sections of the Route 460 corridor that pass through the town’s incorporated borders. It requests that VDOT conduct a thorough evaluation of the corridor within the town and specifically mentions that there is no center turn lane on the majority of the Route 460 corridor in Windsor.
The council concluded by going into closed session to consider the appointment of a new planning and zoning administrator. Gary Mitchell, who was appointed to the position in September 2017, left in February for a position in Essex County.