Manassas Journal Messenger 04-26-01



budget passes first vote


Chris Newman



MANASSAS – The City Council passed the fiscal 2002 budget totaling $185.9

million Wednesday, with a 5 percent increase in general-fund expenditures,

pay raises for city employees of up to 6 percent, and a $1 million investment

in roads, park facilities, technology and buildings made possible by a one-time

windfall in sales tax revenue.

A second reading of the budget ordinances, required for full passage,

is scheduled for Thursday night.

All budget items were unanimously passed except for $205,170 in funding

for the city’s share of the OmniLink bus service operated by the Potomac

and Rappahannock Transportation Commission. Councilman Hal Parrish voted

against it because of concerns about its efficiency.

For 2002-03, the city is holding the real estate tax rate steady at $1.24

per $100 of assessed value. City Council and staff said the freeze is necessary

even with a 10 percent increase in city real estate value this year because

of unchanging state funds, a slowing economy and the need to “catch

up” with city infrastructure needs.

But taxpayers, who are seeing the average tax bill for a single-family

home increase $227 this year because of higher assessments, were expecting

to see a rate decrease, said Councilman Ulysses “Xerk” White,

putting them in the position of “scrambling in the 11th hour”

to find one.

The city needs a tax reduction plan set for future years given revenue

increases, White said during a council discussion that seemed to tilt toward

tax reduction. “It’s incumbent on us to articulate all these things

I’ve heard around the table.”

The OmniLink bus service, which runs local routes “linking”

communities in Manassas, Manassas Park and Prince William County, got its

annual criticism from City Council before its funding was approved.

“I understand the need, but it is very expensive,” Parrish

said. “Every time I look at the OmniLink buses, they are empty, or

close to it.”

He said there should be more efficient ways to provide the service, which

is targeted at area seniors, handicapped riders, workers without vehicles

and commuters needing a lift to other mass transit.

Parrish pointed out the budgeted $205,170. If divided by $6, representing

a hypothetical average cab ride fare, that amount would pay for 34, 195

cab rides in one year, or 94 cab rides a day.

OmniLink has struggled to gain ridership – its local and feeder bus service

saw daily ridership rise to 1,800 riders at the end of last year, up 45

percent from the previous year. Many of its problems were related to too

many route deviations requested by riders, but spokeswoman Sheila Larson

said the system has been improved and “we’ve been able to strike a

good balance between the deviation trips and keeping the bus on time.”

John Grzejka, the city’s representative on PRTC, told council it had

good points, but the service, if provided, has to be accessible to all users,

including the handicapped. He said a shadow system could be developed for

riders with special needs, but would be expensive.

In Manassas, OmniLink services 300 riders daily, but since the service’s

hours of operation have increased this year, a comparison of ridership is

“apples to oranges” to previous years until a full year has been

surveyed, Grzejka said.

OmniLink officials have sought press coverage of its fleet of 16 new

buses to attract riders. A debut of the first 28-person bus was at Manassas

Mall on Tuesday with prizes and balloons, and children from Paty Kake Day

Care in Manassas got a chance to ride the bus. The bus will make a second

appearance at 2 p.m. today at Potomac Mills.



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