The recent Waynesboro City Council budget meeting was democratically appreciated but largely unhelpful. Like many localities before them, council sought to reduce a somewhat complex and confusing budget down to a couple simple, standard, considerations.

In this case the test question asked whether the public wanted to cut school staffing or increase taxes. The people in the audience gave opinions: our taxes are too low and too high, our schools are paying a horrible price from underfunding, and more taxes puts more burden on people who can least afford it.

I think all of these points of view, except that taxes are too low, are justified. Schools likely need increased funding and the people deserve to keep their money. But as long as people are only given two lousy options a satisfactory resolution will never be reached.

First, Waynesboro does not garner too little revenue. Yes, Waynesboro does have a lower tax rate than Staunton. So what? Staunton is no model of financial responsibility. Beyond that, Waynesboro makes up in meals, lodging, sales, and cigarette taxes the deficiency it has on real property levies.

Waynesboro families are being squeezed by costs they can’t avoid, water and sewer bills, because their utility fees are laden with surcharges for administration. Over $1,000,000 of cost are added to utility bills to pay for city overhead. Some can be justified, but not the equivalent of 20 people making $50,000 annually.

Trying to be all things hurts the city. Waynesboro, and Staunton for that matter, are too small to operate enterprise activities better contracted out. The business goal for “economies of scale” should not be discounted when operating governments. All manufacturing companies, out of survival concerns, seek continual improvement.

Efficiency of scale awaits Waynesboro should it negotiate with Augusta County to have them assume its Emergency Operations work. Given that Augusta does the work for $27 per resident and it costs Waynesboro $49 per, a savings as much as $400,000 is possible.

Manufacturing concerns do not tolerate under-performing activities choosing instead to move investments from less profitable work to areas of better return on investments. Tourism and Economic Development are areas where reductions in staff could be accomplished without huge impacts on either activity. Having one top professional and one support person is enough to cover both of these efforts. The county gets by with such staffing, and so could the city saving as much $250,000 annually.

Businesses could take inventory every week but do not as the cost to continually count, is more than the value of finding a few errors in numbers. It is similar with reassessments. Why do them every two years when every four is often enough to keep up with value changes? Opting for a four year spacing saves about $150,000 annually.

One of two methods come to mind. Either keep one professional staffer in house to keep up with market conditions, new construction, and structure losses and then hire field workers every fourth year. Or combine with Staunton for a professional staff that works years one and two on one reassessment and years 3 and 4 on the other.

Successful companies do the work they are accomplished at and hire out those areas they aren’t. Whether contracting out janitorial work or tool and die making; they take advantage of other companies cost controls and work expertise.

Waynesboro’s desire to stay in the water and sewer business is costly. The ACSA has proven its ability to work for multiple jurisdictions as it presently operates the landfill for the cities and the county. They have the engineering, the equipment, and the administrative expertise to provide the water and sewer services for less.

I know there will be “what ifs” and legitimate concerns, but I contend the savings are so real, and unextraordinary, that people dedicated to saving tax dollars will find ways to work through the issues.

The new WHS can become the key to the future, not just for the students but for the community at large. The importance a locality puts on education is an important factor for site selectors seeking the ideal spot for a new manufacturing site.

A City Council that seems so uninspired, as to suggest indifference, when causing staff reductions and flagging salaries, is in need of a call to action: cut costs, move some money around, offer solutions not dilemmas. It can be done.

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Tracy Pyles, a former chairman and member of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors who lives in Augusta County, is a columnist for The News Virginian. His column is published Sundays.

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