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SoBo budget: Department heads plead for funding

It wasn’t so much about wants but needs when South Boston Town Council’s Finance Committee met Monday in council chambers to receive budget requests from a number of department heads.

South Boston Fire Chief Steve Phillips told committee members his department is in dire need of a new pumper truck, “not anything fancy,” he said, but one that would cost approximately $420,000.

That is more than half of the $702,382 for the fire department in South Boston’s proposed 2014-15 budget.

The department’s current pumper is almost 20-years-old, and a typical truck lasts about that long, Phillips said.

“It’s getting to the point where it’s undependable,” Phillips noted, adding electronics and required pollution controls on a new fire truck helps amp up the cost.

Once money is available and the order placed, it would take up to one year to receive the pumper, according to Phillips.

Town Manager Ted Daniel said purchase of a new pumper would be a “capital item.”

Public works is looking at cuts to its operating budget, with reductions in contracted maintenance services such as leaf collection and buildings and grounds maintenance.

Street cleaning funds are reduced from $174,925 to $94,988 in the proposed budget, and replacement of a leaf collection machine has been deferred.

Public Works Director Alan Auld explained the majority of public works funding comes from Virginia Department of Transportation lane mileage allotments, estimated at $1.85 million out of a budget of approximately $3 million.

State funding cannot be used for parks or cemetery maintenance, he cautioned.

“We tried to take the hit as best we could and hold off on equipment,” said Auld, who told committee members a new leaf collection machine costs approximately $30,000.

Funding cutbacks for part-time help have forced his department to curtail the hiring of students to help cut grass and perform other maintenance during the summer.

Councilman Coleman Speece, who has seen the current leaf collection machine in action, told Auld it leaves as much debris as it picks up, and he asked how long it could hold out.

“That decision will be made for us,” Auld replied.

South Boston Police Department is looking at a $2,191,419 budget for the upcoming fiscal year, a 5.5 percent decrease from the current budget.

The proposed budget defers the lease-purchase vehicle program for the upcoming fiscal year, and one authorized police position will remain unfilled.

Deferring the lease-purchase program for vehicles was a hard decision to make, according to Daniel.

“It really worked out well.  We’ve been able to stretch out mileage, and it’s given us an eight-year life span on police vehicles,” he added.

The police department loses from one to two officers a year, according to South Boston Police Captain B. K. Lovelace.

“We’re still taking applications for when positions become available,” Lovelace said.

A $3,000 cut in funds used for training will not adversely affect the effectiveness of officers, Lovelace said in responding to a question from Councilman Robert “Bob” Hughes.

“The cuts don’t compromise the level of training for police officers,” he said.

Parks and Recreation Director Matthew McCargo is looking at a $286,033 budget.

“It’s pretty much a bare bones budget, and we’re making do with what we’ve got,” McCargo told the finance committee.

The Washington-Coleman Community Center now operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the community center has been leased out approximately seven times, McCargo reported.

“Parks and recreation lives off part-time salaried people,” Daniel told the finance committee.

If usage of the community center goes up, then another part-time worker (at a $15,000 salary) may be needed, Daniel indicated.

The town is cutting expenses wherever it can to avoid raising taxes, with reductions in engineering and contracted services and deferment of both the pay for performance program and lease/purchase program for police vehicles.

A total of $187,000 in use of fund balance is earmarked for support of the Higher Education Center, a vehicle lease-purchase program for public works and capital projects, Daniel explained.

There is very little room in the budget for unexpected repairs, Daniel added. 

“We have a good feel for where we may have problems but don’t know when…we assume the risk in stormwater issues.”