Town’s least talkative budget hearing

The Washington Town Council held its official public hearing on the town’s $907,500 fiscal 2015 budget at its regular monthly meeting Monday (May 12) at town hall.

None of the half-dozen citizens present had anything to say, and Mayor John Sullivan closed the hearing about 30 seconds later. The fiscal year starts July 1; the council will vote to adopt the budget at its June meeting (which was rescheduled later during Monday’s meeting from June 9 to June 16).

The budget is $129,700 higher than last year’s, the single largest increase coming under the budget’s “Operations” category, where a $90,000 “Contingency Fund for All Uses” appears for the first time.

The budget also reflects an increase in estimated meals-and-lodging tax revenue, the town’s largest source of revenue, from fiscal year 2014’s budget estimate of $280,000 (already exceeded by $20,000 of actual revenue a month ago) to an estimated $360,000 in fiscal 2015.

The council’s six returning members, and new member Katherine Leggett, who were uneventfully voted into office in the May 6 town election (in which none of the seats were contested), will also be sworn in at the June 16 meeting.

Sullivan said he hoped that departing council member Alice Butler, who’d decided not to seek a fifth four-year term on the town’s governing body, would be at the June meeting for a proper sendoff. “But in the meantime, I wanted to acknowledge all of Alice’s many years on the town council,” he said. “I sat next to her when I first started on the council, and while Alice is not the most talkative member of the council, whenever she leaned over or asked a question, it was always right on the mark.

“It’s not exactly fun serving on the town council,” said Sullivan, “so I wanted to say how much your years on the council are appreciated.”

Butler smiled shyly as the room applauded, afterward choosing to remain among the council’s least talkative members.

After a brief discussion, the council voted 5-0 to allocate an additional $2,000 to the painting of Avon Hall (vice mayor Gary Schwartz and Patrick O’Connell were absent), the former Carrigan estate owned by the town. In response to questions from the audience, Sullivan and town clerk Laura Dodd said the additional expense, which brought the total cost for the roof and exterior painting job to $11,700, was due to a “misunderstanding, on the town’s part” of what was included in the bid by contractor Mark’s Painting.

Sullivan said most of the work is done, and that the building — which will be the backdrop for this Saturday’s Rappahannock Americana Music Festival, organized by Ben “Cooter” Jones and Alma Viator — “looks pretty damn good.”

He suggested that town residents, in keeping with the event’s Americana theme, put out American flags for the weekend, Independence Day-style.

The council also approved a $600 labor estimate from ESS, which operates the town’s wastewater-treatment plant, to replace the plant’s “airlift filter.” This is in addition to the $950 cost of the new filter.

Resident Gary Aichele, who co-owns the Gay Street Inn, asked if the town had plans to create any sort of capital fund to deal with such emergencies, or whether the funds would continue to come out of the town’s operations budget.

“That’s a really good question, and a good point,” Sullivan said. “I think we need to talk about having some sort of capital fund.”

With the treatment plant, which is approaching five years old, Dodd noted that the town “is just getting to the point where things are starting to break.”

“Planning and anticipating repairs and replacements,” Aichele said, “might be preferable to getting caught short and having to borrow.”

Sullivan announced that town resident Judy DeSarno had volunteered to lead the group of volunteers planning for next year’s Christmas in Washington parade and holiday festival.

He also noted that (in anticipation of this weekend’s Americana Festival concerts at Avon Hall and the Theatre in Washington), the town was planning to plant flowers in all its street-side flower tubs this week.

If you drove through town Tuesday afternoon, in the almost 90-degree heat that preceded evening thunderstorms, you would have seen Dodd, Sullivan and several other volunteers doing just that.

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 544 Articles
Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.