Council adopts crash collision center; members discuss FY 2016-17 budget

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At their Monday night meeting, Salem City Council members paved the way for Salem to to join Roanoke in creating a regional crash-reporting center, as well as label itself as part of Virginia’s Blue Ridge. The Roanoke Valley will be the first community in the entire United States to implement such a center.

Members unanimously adopted the regional agreement for the center, which will be created by a Canadian company, following in the footsteps of a Canadian program that allows motorists to report injury-free collisions to the center rather than to the police.

Roanoke City, Roanoke County and Salem will form an executive committee to oversee the center, which will be funded by insurance companies, not the the government. The company, Roanoke Accident Support Services, will first use an 18-month pilot program, in which police will still respond to traffic collisions.

The system is meant to create a more efficient way of dealing with crashes, which intended to free up valuable time for law enforcement officers, and be quicker for those involved in crashes. Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess said it will take a while to reeducate the public, but eventually, those involved in crashes will be directed to the center by emergency dispatchers.

“We will be the first community in the whole United States–the Roanoke Valley will–to do this,” Boggess said.

Salem’s decision to brand itself as part of the Virginia Blue Ridge is an attempt to draw more tourism into the area. Members of the Roanoke Valley Convention and Visitor Bureau spoke at the meeting, and reported that tourism in the Roanoke Valley has spiked since 2013, when areas such as Botetourt County, Franklin County and Roanoke were first united by the designation.

Also at the meeting, council members discussed the proposed Fiscal Year 2016-17 budget, which begins July 1, and is currently listed at an amount of $182,575,274.

According to Boggess, the budget is more promising than it has been in years.

“The budget being presented shows an improvement in the economic conditions that have plagued the city for several years,” Boggess said in his statement.

The total General Fund budget is listed at $75,765,556, an increase of $1,572,512 or 2.1 percent from the previous year. It also includes a total transfer of $21,843,901 or 28.8 percent of the fund to the Salem City School System.

Other highlights include a proposed 2.5 pay increase for full-time and part-time employees, and the funding for a pay study, which hasn’t been implemented for 11 years. The study will allow the city to create a long-term plan correcting pay issues. An increase in health and dental insurance costs of 5 percent has also been included in the proposed budget.

The General Fund includes a lump-sum amount of $500,000 for capital purchases, which will be allotted to specific purchases in budget work sessions. Electric consumption is projected to be flat for the next year, but rates will be adjusted from .0015 per KWH to .0025 per KWH.

The budget also includes a projected 3 percent increase in water rates and a 0 percent increase in sewer rates, effective Jan. 1, 2017, as proposed in the five-year rate plan from Draper Aden Associates.

City officials will continue to review the budget in March and April work sessions. The General Assembly concluded on March 11, and at the time of presentation, the city had not received notification of increase in state funding.