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Tax hike may fund additional police

April 24, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

Hagerstown Mayor Steven T. Sager said Wednesday he would support the police chief's request for seven more officers, a dispatcher and six police cars, even if it means raising the city's property tax rate.

"There's a good chance a property tax increase won't be needed, but if there is, I'll support it," Sager said.

The seven officers would be used as a team to combat the city's growing drug problems and related violent crime, Police Chief Dale Jones said.

The team also could address other problems ranging from prostitution to graffiti, Jones said.

Salaries and benefits for the six police officers, a sergeant and the dispatcher would cost about $274,700 for one year, said City Finance Director Al Martin.

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While the dispatcher would start July 1, the six officers wouldn't be hired until Oct. 1, costing the city about $200,000 in salaries and benefits for the fiscal year starting July 1, Martin said.

Filling all eight positions for a full year would call for a 4.82-cent increase in the property tax rate, which is now $1.70 per $100 of assessed value.

That would mean a $19.28 annual increase in taxes for a property valued at $100,000, Martin said.

If the city receives federal funding and uses $79,000 in community development block grants budgeted for fiscal 1998 and a possible $235,000 general fund surplus this fiscal year, the tax rate might not have to increase in the upcoming fiscal year, Martin said.

Since the general fund surplus is a one-time funding source, the tax rate might have to increase a penny or two the following fiscal year, he said.

Each penny added to the tax rate generates about $57,000 in revenue, Martin said. That same penny adds $4 to the annual tax bill for a $100,000 property.

One-time, start-up costs for the officers, such as uniforms, would cost between $2,500 and $5,000, Martin said.

City officials said the police cars, which could cost as much as $135,000, could be paid for this fiscal year. There is $136,805 still available this year in community development block grant funds, Martin said.

Before Wednesday's afternoon budget meeting, council members William Breichner and Lewis Metzner said they would support a property tax increase to add needed police officers.

Councilman Fred Kramer said he would support a one-cent tax rate increase for more officers.

Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein told Jones she would need more time to reflect on his request. "Seven officers and a civilian appears to be a lot," she said.

Since Jones became chief in February, 1994, the number of officers has grown from 88 to 92, with another officer in training, Jones said.

Council members will discuss the chief's request again next week. They are expected to vote on the proposed budget on May 13.

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