First draft of next year’s budget calls for city worker raises and 3 cent real estate tax increase

File photo

By Rachel Petterson, contributor

The city council on Tuesday began discussing Harrisonburg’s 2023-24 budget, which includes a proposed real estate tax increase for a third consecutive year to help cover the cost of Rocktown High School. 

City Manager Ande Banks presented the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2023-2024 at Tuesday’s meeting. This first draft of the budget includes increases in pay for city employees. 

This presentation was just the beginning of the journey toward approving the budget. At Tuesday’s meeting, the city council approved advertising the potential increase in real estate tax of 3 cents for every $100 of assessed value. Such an increase would bring the total real estate tax to 96 cents per $100. 

The average home in Harrisonburg is valued at about $230,000. A 3-cent increase would raise the property taxes on such a house by $69 a year and bring the total property tax bill to $2,208. This comes after the council approved a 3-cent increase for this year and a 4-cent increase the previous year

This tax increase is a continuation of the city’s plan to raise that tax by 10 cents over three years to pay for the new Rocktown High School, which is expected to cost about $100 million. 

At the next city council meeting on April 25, the council will hold a public hearing regarding the budget, which must be adopted by May 31. 

The budget includes raises for many, if not most, city employees to make their pay more competitive and equitable. 

The compensation adjustments are based on recommendations from Baker Tilly, a consulting firm which conducted an in-depth classification and compensation study of Harrisonburg. 

“It has been an issue for decades that we have been underpaying our people,” said Mayor Deanna Reed. 

Other council members agreed. Council member Chris Jones said the proposal matches conversations he has had with staff over time. 

“This feels good,” Reed said of the budget draft. “There’s some things that we’re going to have to talk about, but it’s nothing major.” 

The budget document also outlines funding for several new city positions and for renovating the old municipal building. 

A list of city job titles
A slide from City Manager Ande Banks’ presentation Tuesday shows the list of proposed new city positions included in the first draft of the FY 2023-24 budget.

City Council Approves Next Capital Improvement Program 

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the city council unanimously approved its five-year plan for major public construction projects, which serves as a rough outline of priorities for capital improvements. 

“Think of the CIP as a road map for the future mixed with a Christmas wish list,” said Michael Parks, director of communications. 

The council approved the planning document in a 4-0 vote, with Vice Mayor Dent absent. 

The capital improvement plan includes projects of $50,000 or more, as well how the city might pay for them. Projects under $50,000 aren’t included. 

“This is purely a planning document,” said city manager Ande Banks. Just because something is included in the CIP does not mean that it will happen at all, nor that it will happen when or how it’s described in the CIP, he said. 

Among the projects included are renovations to the historic Harrison House, which has existed since the 18th century and housed African Americans for much of its history; renovations to Harrisonburg High School; and the Rural Potable Project, which would improve water supply from Harrisonburg to Rockingham County. 

Upcoming Events 

Several upcoming events received the council’s approval at Tuesday’s meeting, including: 

  • Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance’s “Downtown Dinner Party” from 7-11 p.m. on Saturday, May 20, at Turner Pavilion. 
  • Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance also is hosting “Best.Weekend.Ever.” from noon-6 p.m. Saturday, June 17, downtown. Expect Main Street to be closed from Campbell Street to just before Rock Street. 
  • Magpie Diner will host its third annual Juneteenth Celebration from 3-8 p.m. on Sunday, June 18. 

The city will host its annual Blacks Run Clean-up and Arbor Day event from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. this Saturday starting at the grassy lot beside the Farmer’s Market. 

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