Wednesday, March 6, 2013

No smelly trash on downtown sidewalks and budget moves forward

Skip Decker briefs city council on downtown compactor.

Skip Decker briefs city council on downtown compactor.

Unsightly smelly bags of trash waiting for pickup downtown by city trucks may be a thing of the past soon. Skip Decker, Manager of the Solid Waste Management Department said after 10 years they have finally found a place for a trash compactor in the Downtown Central Business District.

“It’s not visually appealing when trash is sitting outside and you’re sitting with your glass of wine having your dinner,” said Decker. Visitors first impression of downtown with trash on the sidewalks is another reason DRI, Inc. likes this idea. Businesses are onboard this time.

In the past a location for dumpsters or compactors was an impediment. One location behind the Jefferson Street Roanoke Valley Chamber of Commerce was objected to by Joyce Waugh years ago. Businesses thought that toting trash to a dumpster or a compactor would be a burden on employees.

The operation of the compactor will eliminate multiple daily pickups of CBD trash by providing 24/7 day trash disposal for restaurants and businesses. The service will be available starting July 1. Trash pickup will still be available until January 1, 2014.

Electricity needs to be extended to rear of the Kirk Avenue site next to Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea. Site preparation will costs $150,000 with $65,000 annually for operation.

Currently business pay $70 to $120 for trash pickup. For businesses still leaving trash out for pickup the cost will double. The cost structure for using the compactor will provide two free uses per week and $1 for every use thereafter. Usage will be capped at the current rate.

Recycling will give businesses an incentive to reduce cost by curtailing the need to use the compactor. There will be no charge for recycling.

Cost to the city will go from $125,000 in the CBD to $65,000 annually. City Manager Chris Morrill said the real benefit is that freed resources will result in improved cleanliness in the downtown area.

Since employees will be carting trash to the compactor throughout the day Morrill said that the area will need to be monitored for trash trails left on the way to the compactor – there will be a transition period.

2014 Budget and Capital Improvement Program

Since last month’s first look at the 2014 budget a $332,000 increase in revenue provided some budget relief said Amelia Merchant and Ann Shawver during the Monday morning briefing to city council. School funding now looks to increase by $1.2 million to almost $74 million for fiscal year 2014.

Merchant, the Director of Management and Budget said this pass at the budget included a two percent raise for city employees. Roanoke City employees are behind the market by five percent she said.

Outside agencies were added that brought the budget from $5.9 million to $9 million out of balance. Total revenue is now projected to be $258.1 million.

Nearly every department and some agencies had requests for additional funds.  Citizens can keep up with the progress on the budget from the city’s home page website at

An extensive discussion followed as the Capital Improvement Project additions exposed jeopardy in exceeding the debt policy. The debt policy states that debt (including schools) cannot exceed 10 percent of the budget. The budget including schools is $330 million – 10 percent of that is a maximum of $33 million. “We are at $31.5 million now,” said Shawver.

Sixty percent of debt must be paid down over 10 years. Debt service (including interest) should be limited to as close to $20 million as possible said Shawver. “The more money we apply to debt service  the less we are able to apply to other operating components of our budget,” said Shawver.

City Manager Chris Morrill compared it to maxing out a credit card. “Just because you have it – it’s not cash it’s debt … I would never recommend bumping up to that 10 percent a year. You never know what expense might come up.” Fixing the culvert to support passenger rail is an urgent unexpected capital project for 2014 and 2015.

Shawver says she relies on the city’s advisory firm to assess the sensitivity of a possible economic decline. Accordingly a reduction in expenditures of five percent would result in the city breaching its policy. If sequestration results in economic retraction that would put the debt policy in jeopardy as it did in 2010 when debt reached 10.3 percent.

Council will have to decide on which projects need to be pushed out to later years. The policy is tight until 2018 but the $6 million preparation for passenger rail service, $7 million for Round Hill Elementary school expansion and $16 million for new and upgraded fire stations need funding.

Progress on the Budgeting For Outcomes teams will be presented to city council again on April 1.

In other business:

The Market Square pedestrian plaza is on hold until the Fall. The one bid submitted to transform Market Square to a pedestrian plaza exceeded the $650,000 estimate that was expected to be cash funded. Contractors feared the tight timeline in the RFP and didn’t bid. The objective was to complete Market Square so it would coincide with the opening of Center in the Square in June. Morrill hopes that with additional time to complete the project over the winter will produce more reasonable bids.

The second reading for the sale of the Huff Lane property to NDRA II, LLC produced no change in the 4-3 vote from the prior council meeting. Dorchester and Grandview Court residents spoke prior to council’s second vote to no avail. Mayor Bowers and council members Sherman Lea and Anita Price were in the minority voting against the sale for the second time. City manager Morrill promised improvements in 2014 to the south end of what will remain of a park. Promised were a pavilion with restrooms, basketball courts and tennis court.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Finance, Politics, Roanoke City Politics

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