Galax budget passes with all tax, fee hikes intact

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By April Wright, Reporter

Galax residents and visitors will be spending more on taxes and other rates by Aug. 1, after city council approved the 2009-2010 budget last week by a vote of 6-1.

These increases — aimed at closing the budget gap — include raising the meals tax from 4 to 5 percent; the lodging tax from 2 to 5 percent; real estate tax from $0.55 to $0.57 per $100; and the personal property vehicle tax from $1.42 to $1.68 per $100.

Bi-monthly water and sewer rates will increase to $28 for up to 6,000 gallons of water. Outside of the corporate limits, water and sewer rates will rise to $56.

The monthly rental rate for a 4-cubic-yard Dumpster was increased from $12 to $15 per month. The monthly rental of a 6-cubic-yard Dumpster was increased from $14 to $18 per month. The cost of collection for a single 4-cubic-yard Dumpster collected once a week increased from $48.20 to $65 per month, and the monthly charge for a weekly single 6-cubic-yard Dumpster increased from $72.30 to $90.

All changes will go into effect Aug. 1.

The budget includes a General Fund of $19.47 million and a Utility Fund of $4.71 million.

At a June 1 budget hearing, two restaurant owners and a concerned citizen said they feared that the increase in the meals tax could drive away both locals and tourists. Another Galax resident, who lives on a fixed income, asked council to rethink these increases.

Council members said they would take those comments into consideration at the June 1 hearing. But, council made no changes before adopting the budget at the June 8 council meeting.

All council members except Vice Mayor Willie Greene voted for the budget. Greene opposed to the budget as a whole, and to increases to the meals tax, water and sewer rates and personal property tax rate.

"Six tax increases... that's a lot," Greene said.

Mayor C.M. Mitchell said that, in his 22 years on council, this has been by far the most challenging budget to come to grips with. “We had to make difficult choices,” he said. “No one wants to adjust rates, and it's a bad time to be done,” but it was necessary to close the budget gap.

Council held an additional two budget work sessions, and department heads were asked to take a second look at the budget to cut out any extra expenses.

Mitchell commended council, the city manager and the department heads for their work with the budget.