Procedural flub postpones utility tax increases

Procedural flub postpones utility tax increases

By Erich Wagner (Stock photo)

City Councilor Justin Wilson was checking his monthly bills when he noticed a rather unorthodox red flag: His electricity bill hadn’t gone up.

Wilson realized, after examining the various monthly taxes and fees, that his utility tax cap was still $2.40 and hadn’t increased to $3. It should have; city council had voted on it before leaving for summer recess.

“Well, you know, I pay attention to my bills, and I said to someone earlier, ‘I pay attention to my bills, and I pay attention to the city’s bills,’” Wilson said. “[When] I got my bill last week that was a bill covered completely in the new fiscal year, I said, ‘Uh oh, something’s wrong,’ and I didn’t know if it was Dominion [Virginia] Power’s mistake or a city issue, so I sent a note to staff.”

City Manager Rashad Young confirmed Tuesday that City Hall had erred.

During the sprint to the end of the city’s legislative session in June, staff had forgotten to schedule a public hearing and final vote on the measure, which includes a 10-percent rate hike for businesses.  Councilors had agreed upon it during the budget process.

“During the docket management process, we enter the bills into the electronic system for first reading, and then when the council acts, we enter it again to schedule the second reading and public hearing, but we just did not put that back into the system,” Young said.

He has directed city staff to enter new legislation next month when Wilson and his colleagues return to session. The plan is to put the measure into effect October 1. In the meantime, the oversight will cost the city around $275,000.

“The city plans to resolve this situation by constantly monitoring revenue collections throughout the year and controlling expenditures when possible to ensure this does not cause any service impacts,” Young said.

In the future, according to Young, the city hopes to avoid similar slip-ups by scheduling public hearings along with first readings.

“We’ll just automatically schedule that second meeting,” he said. “It’s easier to remove something from the docket rather than add it a second time.”

Wilson said it was unfortunate that the mistake happened. But he feels confident about the new procedures, including one that will — in future budget cycles — consolidate tax and fee changes into a couple of pieces of omnibus legislation for passage simultaneously.

Doing so will prevent such errors from happening again.

“It’s not an incredibly large amount of money,” Wilson said. “But hey, I guess it actually ended up like a little bit of a tax break for residents.”