August 2018


FY2019 City Budget
     The FY19 Manassas Park Budget was voted on and passed on June 19th. There was an attempt to not only balance the budget financially, but also to do it with a balanced approach regarding all departments. No budget is ever perfect, but it was the best that could be accomplished on behalf of the City. Due to the high debt level acquired in previous decades, the debt service spiked again this year by about $720,000. So the debt service for FY2019 that the City must pay is at the historically high level of $10,745,988. This is about 24% of the City Budget, and seriously limited all choices that could be made on behalf of the City, its residents and staffers. The debt service will level off during the next several years, and even though finances will continue to be somewhat tight, balancing the FY2019 budget was especially difficult. The City was forced to defer capital improvements totaling about $726,000.
     We understand that we cannot kick the “capital improvement” can down the road indefinitely, but this was needed in order to help balance the budget. Likewise, we did not establish any recurring costs for the City. This was important because any recurring costs would roll forward into future budgets, and make it more difficult to balance those futures budgets if the US economy experiences a recession.


NVTA Funding Streams
     During the 2018 General Assembly Session, state representatives voted to provide funding for Metro. This was accomplished, in part, by diverting two of the three revenue streams that the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) depends upon to fund congestion relieving transportation projects. Those 2 revenue streams were the Transient Occupancy Tax (hotel tax) and the Grantors Tax (levied on home sellers at closing). Since Manassas Park has no hotels the Transient Occupancy Tax change does not affect the City. Also since Manassas Park, Manassas and Prince William County are not member localities of the WMATA Compact, our portions of the Grantors Tax that would normally come to us will likewise not be affected. That portion will be directed back to our 3 localities.
     However, this revenue diversion will have an overall effect on the ability of the NVTA to fund projects across the region. There are many unmet transportation needs across Northern Virginia, as we all know from our direct experiences with congestion. Early indicators are that the NVTA will lose about $80 Million per year through the loss of the 2 revenue streams. Over the life of the Six Year Program, which contains many worthy projects, the revenue decreases will be an over $270 Million loss in PayGo revenue, and a decrease in the NVTA’s bonding ability.
     Fortunately this redirection of NVTA revenue did not have an effect on the NVTA’s credit rating. It remains strong and was just recently affirmed by Moody’s to be Aa1. It is more likely that rating agencies will look past the NVTA, and will question why the state is disrupting the revenue streams of a well-functioning organization like the NVTA, and will ask why the state cannot afford to provide more funding for transit without looking to the revenue of an existing transportation entity.


Route 28
     Despite reduced NVTA funding, the NVTA did pass its FY2018-2023 Six Year Program that includes 44 regionally significant projects. These projects are located across the Northern Virginia region, and scored well on the established criteria used to evaluate each one.
     Funding for Route 28 was a part of this approval. Most of the questions that I receive are regarding the section of Route 28 from Manassas through Manassas Park to the Fairfax County line. The NVTA approved $3.5 Million to fully fund the Federal Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for Route 28 alignments for this project. The EIS is required prior to the final alignment selection and the start of design and construction. Likewise, although $145 Million was requested, a partial construction cost approval of $89 Million was made, which still leaves a funding gap to be filled from other sources. This section of Route 28 corridor improvements was also submitted to the State’s Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) for consideration for SMART SCALE funding. This construction request includes right-of-way, any utility relocation, as well as other environmentally related costs.
     The Route 28 widening from the Prince William/Fairfax County line to Route 29, also received partial funding, the cost balance being funded from another source other than the NVTA. Several other areas of the Route 28 corridor also received NVTA funding, bringing the total funding approval to about $143.5 Million for all sections of the Route 28 corridor in the NVTA’s recently adopted Six Year Program. In prior funding programs the NVTA has approved about $114 Million in funding for Route 28 improvements.
     Our City has continuously lobbied for congestion relief on Route 28, and there is much cause for optimism that there is finally progress towards improvement of this very important corridor. It has been my privilege to represent Manassas Park on the NVTA during the time that this funding has been approved for Route 28. In addition to being the City’s NVTA representative, I also serve as Vice-Chair of the NVTA Finance Committee and am a member of the NVTA’s Planning and Programming Committee.


Sanitary Sewer Lining
     The sanitary sewer system experiences infiltration of ground water into the sewer system pipes through leaks and cracks in those pipes. This is generally referred to as infiltration and inflow (I&I). This I&I consumes the City’s allocated capacity at the Upper Occoquan Service Authority treatment plant, and results in added costs for sewage treatment because of increased sewer flow during wet weather. Public Works has, and will continue, to install pipe liner. It is an excellent way to rehabilitate pipe, reduce I&I in the City, and can be done without any excavation. The most recent contract approval for pipe lining represented over 8,000 feet of linear pipe lining. With completion of this recent work, it is anticipated that the City will have lined about 75% of the required work to be done.


April 2018 Issues Below


Manassas Park to Participate in Northern Virginia Cigarette Tax Board (NVCTB)
     The NVCTB is a regional agency established in 1970 & currently consists (as of this writing) of 18 local jurisdictions. The Board’s responsibility is to administer and enforce the local Cigarette Tax Ordinance for all member jurisdictions. Our City wants to ensure that we are not under-collecting cigarette tax revenue that is due to the City. A retailer might try to avoid a higher tax rate by purchasing properly stamped cigarettes in a locality with a lower tax rate, and then reselling them in a higher tax locality. Any store could quite easily supplement their cigarette stock through purchases from Wal-Mart located just across the jurisdictional boundary in Prince William County. NVCTB Agents conduct field inspections of all retail establishments in the member locality in order to insure proper stamping and payment of the appropriate tax.
     There are no upfront costs for the City to join. The yearly cost to the City was estimated at about $4,000, but will be compensated for by bringing in an average of about $5,000 or more in lost revenue. If this initiative does not prove beneficial, the City can pull out of NVCTB membership at any time by sending a letter indicating City desire to pull out.
     A letter was drafted from the City to the NVCTB requesting membership. Their Board will need to meet and vote in order to allow the City to join. The City would then pass a Resolution enabling the NVCTB to collect fees, pass the ordinance and sign the agreement. A representative to the NVCTB would be appointed and then the NVCTB would notify wholesalers who would notify retailers that the City had joined. Businesses are given 30-90 days to sell out of the old stamps prior to use of the new stamps.


Upper Occoquan Service Authority (UOSA) Water Quality Exchange Agreement
     As mentioned in previous mailers, Manassas Park has a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit, which is administered by Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VA DEQ). The MS4 requirements were driven by the EPA’s approval of the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) pollutant requirements flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. Manassas Park has little flexibility within the MS4 Permit, and the City must accommodate these requirements as an unfunded mandate now and into the future. The Permit requires that the City reduce pollutants flowing into the watershed; and to accomplish this by developing, implementing and enforcing a storm water management program in accordance with the timeline contained in the MS4 General Permit. This is very expensive and Manassas Park welcomes any assistance for this.
     UOSA also has permit requirements for the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and suspended solids that may be released. UOSA consistently treats and releases effluent that is cleaner than their permit requires. As a result they possess credits because of their excellent treatment record. It is now legal under Virginia statute for a regional MS4 jurisdiction (such as our City) to use credits generated by dischargers such as UOSA, in order to aid the jurisdiction in their compliance strategies regarding MS4 permit requirements. In November UOSA staff began to explore making these credits available to UOSA member jurisdictions.
     This arrangement will not affect any UOSA fees. Also, it will not cost UOSA anything extra since the four member localities of UOSA have already paid to have the effluent treated. Likewise, there are no added charges to the member localities.
     Since there are no future guarantees of UOSA producing credits, this arrangement would be on a historical basis: credits used after the quantity has been earned and determined. So the City would not count on these credits from year to year, but instead use them as they become available. Likewise they are one-time credits, and do not extend into the future as would credits purchased from a nutrient bank. So the one-time credits can be used to postpone but not replace expensive City MS4 projects. This would stretch out the implementation time and allow the City financial flexibility for expensive MS4 projects.


Third Safest City in Virginia
     Manassas Park has again made the list of Virginia’s safest Cities by Alarm.org. Our City has increased its rating from the 6th to the 3rd safest city in VA.  The National Council for Home Safety and Security reviewed the most recent FBI Uniform Crime Report statistics, in combination with their population data and their internal research. They eliminated any cities that did not submit a complete crime report to the FBI and also removed cities with a population of under 10,000. Congratulations to all of our pubic safety employees, who make Manassas Park a safe place to live, work and raise a family.


January 2018 Issues Below


City Finances
    
Manassas Park still faces challenges due to the high debt burden incurred in previous decades. The debt service increased for the FY2018 budget, and will increase again by about $700,000 for the FY2019 budget. The City anticipates being able to accommodate the increase through careful stewardship of funds and a nearly flat budget.
     Also requiring our attention is the completion of the FY2016 Audit. The Audit remains incomplete primarily as a result of data loss, which the City is currently trying to reconstruct. In November 2015 there was a catastrophic failure of the Financial Software, and there was not sufficient interim and historical data to enable an adequate transition to new Financial Software. The implementation of the new software has been somewhat rocky, but the City continues to work through that.
     Also in 2015, prior to the software failure, there was a temporary evacuation from City Hall due to fumes produced during the process of installing a new roof on the building because its age caused constant leaking. A standard metal seam roof was not recommended due to the roof pitch and associated difficulties. Instead the recommendation was a waterproof membrane covering with 20-year warrantee. The adhesive used in the process produced fumes, and it was necessary for staff to leave the building during the process. This project took longer than anticipated and resulted in operational impacts from using temporary working accommodations.
     There were also historical errors in previous Audits that went unreported and unnoticed. Incorrect numbers were in the previous Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) and this caused an inaccurate starting position for the FY2016 Audit. So the City has engaged a new Audit firm. Corrections will be made, data recovery efforts are ongoing, and there will be a high level of detail for all accounting going forward.
     Because the FY16 Audit was not completed on time, the City received a letter from the VA Auditor of Public Accounts. They determine a FAM Score (Fiscal Assessment Model Score) for localities all across Virginia. The letter was a standard inquiry because our FY16 Audit was not completed on time, and as such was routine, and was not sent because there were any concerns for the City’s fiscal health.
     The City will continue to focus on operational efficiencies; on prudent allocation of resources and funding; on creating new protocols and procedures; and on establishing strong internal controls. These efforts will strengthen financial stability and enable us to maintain a focus on the services that residents have come to expect, and that keep our City strong.


Exploring Sale of City’s Water System
    
The City is currently exploring ways to effectively deal with our costly water/sewer system by stabilizing water/sewer costs at a lower rate. This includes seeking out private companies or other public municipalities or utilities that might be interested in purchasing our system.
     There are several reasons why Manassas Park is considering the sale of its system.
     First, the City’s goal is to stabilize water and sewer costs at a lower rate. We know rates are high, we all pay those rates, and this is a very basic reason why we are exploring sale of the system. Lower rates might be obtained through sale to a private company that has lower equalized rates across Virginia, or perhaps through sale to a larger municipal water/sewer system already having lower rates, and then providing those same lower rates to our residents.
     Also, our City does not have the economies of scale that larger systems and private companies have when they make system repairs and needed infrastructure replacement. Manassas Park faces high costs that are associated with the maintenance of our system because of the age of our infrastructure, which has deteriorated over time.
     We do not know if we will be successful; however, we continue to perform our due diligence, and to carefully explore options that will provide the greatest benefit to residents in terms of lower rates and needed infrastructure repairs, while at the same time maintaining a high quality of water. We will also ensure that we receive a fair return on past investments placed into the system. And, we will provide updates to residents periodically as we acquire new information.


Route 28 Congestion Relief
    
The Phase Two Route 28 congestion relief study has resulted in four final alternatives. These are being submitted to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) for inclusion in their Six Year Program project list. Projects on this list will be evaluated by established criteria to determine the order in which funding will be provided. The Route 28 alternatives will be evaluated using these criteria.
     The funding requested for the first stage of the project will be the Environmental Impact Study (EIS). Prince William County is administering the Route 28 project, and they have indicated they will attempt to expedite the environmental part of the process. There is some concern that two of the four alternatives have sufficient environmental concerns that they may not survive the EIS and therefore will not receive approval. If this is the case then another environmental study will be started on the next highest scoring alternative as soon as possible. Once the EIS has been successfully completed on one of the alternatives then other phases will move forward: corridor design, purchasing the right-of-way, and then construction.


July 2017 Issues Below


Successful FY2018 Budget
    
As we all know, the debt service owed by the City spiked by several million dollars for the FY2018 budgeting year. This was a real challenge for our City to surmount. All Departments brought forward the leanest departmental budgets possible. So the budget that was analyzed and eventually voted on by the Governing Body was balanced and needs based. It was balanced through several mechanisms. First, City debt that was eligible was re-financed for significant savings. Second, about a half dozen City staff positions will go unfilled in order to achieve savings there. And third, some capital improvement projects will be postponed, with the knowledge that we cannot kick the can down the road indefinitely for these projects.
     The City was able to provide a modest increase in funding to the Schools, and a 1% pay raise for staff (plus an added Public Safety increase of .05%)
     We were mindful that the City must be careful not to establish significant recurring costs, because the debt service will again spike next year for the FY2019 budgeting season. The next increase will not be as great as this fiscal year, but will nevertheless have an affect on the budget. Many thanks to all staff who worked hard to make the FY2018 budget a lean one. We will continue to pursue savings at every opportunity.


Removal of Requirement to Display Vehicle Decal
     The removal of this requirement has come up several times for discussion by the Governing Body over the last several years. Recently a very thorough report was provided to the Governing Body to assist us with our deliberations. A public hearing was held May 2nd, public comments were received, and at the May 16th meeting, council voted to approve removal of the decal display requirement.
     It was felt that decals were no longer needed due to electronic advancements. Decals were simply the physical representation that the license fee has been paid on the vehicle. So please NOTE: All residents of Manassas Park must still pay their vehicle license fees.
     Right now not all residents put their decal on their vehicle despite the fact they have paid their license fee, and have the decal. And about 50% of the localities in the Commonwealth have phased out the use of decals. For example, Manassas City, Prince William County, Vienna, Culpepper and Fauquier County no longer issue the actual decal. Manassas City indicated to us that they experienced no negative impacts from their decal phase out.
     There are options that the Commissioner of Revenue can use to keep City records current. There is a monthly electronic download from the DMV that contains all the vehicles listed as being garaged in our City. If someone moves into the City midmonth, then they will be listed in the DMV download the following month.
     When someone accidently registers their vehicle to another jurisdiction, such as Manassas, that Commissioner of Revenue office over there logs into the DMV files and corrects that mistake. Likewise our Commissioner corrects mistakes for other localities.
     Also, our Treasurers Office provides to the Commissioner of Revenue, copies of all water and sewer applications (both owners and renters) of those who move into the City. This is another way for the Commissioner of Revenue to know who is moving into the City and therefore who probably owns a vehicle.  And the City will issue reminders to register vehicles and to pay vehicle license fees, by placing notices in the utility bills from time to time.
     Next is Enforcement. There is most definitely enforcement and ticketing in the neighborhoods. The Police Department will continue working with the Treasurer and the Commissioner of Revenue to identify violators. The Police Department will assist by having patrols routinely and periodically check problem areas, identify violators and forward the appropriate information for enforcement.
     In addition to the removal of the requirement to display a decal, there is also a fee increase to cover the administrative costs that have increased over time for processing the license fees. There has not been an increase since 2000, and that’s 17 years. Prior to that there was no increase since 1985. The departments did a general tally of staff time spent on processing license fees, the increase in the number of accounts processed, etc. and this demonstrated the need for a fee increase. In the last several decades, both the Treasures Office and the Commissioner of Revenue have each converted one part time employee to a full time employee. So the 2 part time conversions combined resulted in a staffing impact of one full time employee being added.    
     The population of our City has also increased. In 2000 the population of the MP was 10,290 (US census data) and now the population has exceeded 16,000 (Weldon Cooper stats). With greater population came an increased number of vehicle license fees to process. These numbers indicate about a 56% increase in license fee handling alone. For these reasons, we felt that the processing of these fees and this service required a $6 fee increase. In this way the fees charged for a particular service will fully fund the service that is provided.
     The City will closely monitor incoming revenue, projected revenue and any other issues over the next few years to determine how successful these changes are.


Manassas Park Named 6th Safest City in Virginia
     Our City has again made the list of Virginia’s safest Cities by Alarm.org. Manassas Park has moved up to 6th place in Virginia based upon FBI crime statistics in conjunction with Alarm.org internal research and population data. Congratulations to all of our public safety employees, who make Manassas Park a safe place to live, work and raise a family.
For more details go to:
https://www.alarms.org/the-safest-cities-in-virginia-2017/


Issues

Jeanette Rishell

Mayor Of Manassas Park