For far too long, we’ve viewed government budgets — whether at the federal, state or local levels — as “spending” of taxpayer dollars. Perhaps, it’s time to change that mindset, especially here in Danville.
These days, we believe, local government budgets should be seen as “investment guide,” not spending documents. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of the greatest jurists of the 20th century, once said, “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.” And those taxes that are collected locally tend to stay in the local community, turning over and over, with the potential to generate more growth and economic advancement.
City Manager Ken Larking has presented his proposed budget to City Council, calling for a general fund budget of about $113 million from which the daily operations of city government, exclusive of the public schools operating budget, would be paid. And yes, if you were wondering, that’s an increase of about $4 million from the current fiscal year.
Here’s where the additional dollars would go, as per council’s long-range goals for the city: Crime and public safety would receive an additional $1.55 million; public education would receive $4.4 million ($2.3 million in new money and more than $2 million in carryover dollars from the division’s tightened control of spending); and efforts to continue promoting growth in Danville would get $2.1 million.
And yes, we’ll be upfront about it: Larking’s proposed budget includes increased taxes. No one likes higher taxes, and no politician likes taking such a step. But if the need for increased revenue is well-documented and the increases massaged and spread over several different revenue streams, it’s sometimes the way to go.
As we have argued in past budget cycles, Danville leaders have always made strong cases for their budgeting decisions. The increased investment — we refuse to call it “spending” — is targeted to key areas of the community and, in time, would result in a stronger, more economically vibrant Danville.
We believe that to be the case this year, too.
As noted, Larking’s proposed budget doesn’t have the new revenue coming from a single source. Not only would that be unfair, it would be unwise and lazy policymaking. Rather, different revenue streams have been identified as sources for the needed dollars.
First, much of the money for public education would come from an 8-cent increase to the real estate rate, currently 80 cents per $100 valuation. The 88-cent rate would represent a $72 increase in the yearly tax on the average valuation of a Danville home, with the $1.76 million going to Danville Public Schools.
Larking also proposes increasing the personal property tax rate from $3.50 per $100 valuation to $3.60 — about $12.60 more paid each year on a car valued at $15,000. The new rate would generate an additional $150,000 in the upcoming fiscal year and an additional $300,000 each year thereafter. Also in his budget proposal is a 30-cent tax on cigarettes, which could net $500,000 for the city with more than $280,000 going to the Danville Life Saving Crew.
The public should see Larking’s proposed budget, we will state again, as a guide to strategic investing in Danville’s future.
Money must be invested in public education to provide children of this city with the best possible education for the 21st century from cutting-edge technology in the classrooms to trained teachers adept at utilizing that technology. Investment in the revitalization of the city’s historic downtown will lead to new business and employment opportunities. Pay public employees in such key sectors as education, law enforcement and fire and EMS what they are worth to this community, not what we can get away with. The lesson is clear — you attract, train and invest in the best and you will retain the best.
The past decade and a half haven’t been kind to Danville and Southside Virginia, economically, but this city and this region are on their way back. The buzz in economic development circles and the vibe outsiders sense when visiting the city are real. It’s now up to us — and our elected leaders — to harness that energy and to make those strategic investments.