Mayor Of Manassas Park
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.
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