Budget for city includes fee hikes

April 03, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Hagerstown residents would pay more for water, sewer, trash collection and parking under the proposed $64.8 million spending plan being developed by the Hagerstown mayor and City Council.

Also, trash collection would be cut from twice to once a week and the mixed paper recycling program would be eliminated under the proposed budget for fiscal year 2000, which begins July 1.

Personnel cuts in the proposed budget would result in laying off the market master at the City Farmers Market, a part-time position. And seven full-time positions that are currently unstaffed or soon will be vacant due to retirements or resignations, including three in the police department, would not be filled.

Property taxes would not be increased under the proposed budget.

The mayor and council members are expected to review the proposed budget during their weekly Tuesday meetings this month and at a public hearing May 4.


The council is expected to vote on adopting the budget May 25.

Council members interviewed Friday said major changes to the budget proposal are unlikely.

"The concrete's been poured and the concrete's going to harden quickly," Councilman J. Wallace McClure said.

"As far as I'm concerned all the council members can live with the proposed budget," McClure said. "All of the bantering and back and forth has already been done."

The mayor and council members discussed the budget and decided on rate increases and cuts in services during private meetings, according to McClure.

There were at least eight such closed meetings between Jan. 1 and March 31.

Typically, those discussions take place during open meetings after a the city administrator presents a proposed budget. However, because of a projected $1.1 million deficit in next year's general fund budget, the mayor and council helped City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman balance the proposed budget.

McClure said the public didn't miss anything by not witnessing the budget discussions.

"If they had been open to the public we would have heard from everyone, and it would have taken forever," he said.

The decisions made during those meetings became public Wednesday when the almost 500-page document was made available to the public.

The proposed budget would increase the trash collection fee $10 annually, which would bring in an additional $131,580 for the city.

Cutting trash collection from twice to once a week, eliminating mixed paper recycling, and bringing the city's trash to a private landfill instead of the Washington County landfill, would save the city $183,000.

McClure said some people will criticize the council for how they are proposing to balance the budget.

"You're increasing fees and decreasing services. But these were options we felt we could live with," McClure said.

"It will require some behavioral modifications. Some people might have to buy a larger trash can," he said.

"Anyone who is going to complain I want them to come in with a solution," McClure said.

Also under the proposal, water rates would increase 3 percent and sewer rates would go up 3.5 percent, which would cost a household using 12,000 gallons of water every three months an additional $6.50 a year.

The rate increases would generate an additional $265,140, which would offset the cost of improvements at the water and sewer plants.

Monthly permits for city parking lots would cost $2 more next year, which would be done to offset the lost revenue from subsidizing city employee parking, according to the budget proposal.

Councilman Alfred W. Boyer defended the proposed budget.

"If I were to ask residents of Hagerstown whether they would rather have a tax increase or a slight reduction in services, I think they'd choose the latter," Boyer said.

In general the proposed budget maintains or slightly increases spending levels for most city departments.

The general fund, the largest fund in the overall budget, is proposed to increase 5 percent over this year to $21.6 million. The increase is due largely to the higher cost of wages and benefits, according to the budget proposal.

Departments within the general fund include the police, which would receive almost $7.3 million under the proposed budget, a 5 percent increase over this year; and the fire department, which would receive $3.4 million under the proposed budget, a 6.2 percent increase over this year.

The increased funding would be due to increases in wages and benefits, which are pushing up costs in the entire general fund, according to the proposed budget.

The general fund is primarily funded with revenue from city property taxes, which is up almost 3 percent in the proposed budget to about $11.7 million.

Budget projections for the next six years show a continuation of this trend where spending increases faster than revenues grow.

This means that to balance future budgets the council could have to raise property taxes by 43 cents over the next six years, according to budget projections.

related stories:

-- Hagerstown proposed budget highlights:

-- Schedule for reviewing proposed budget

-- How to balance the budget

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