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Shortfall smaller

city budget easier this year

January 22, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

The Hagerstown City Council will have an easier time balancing its next fiscal budget since the projected general fund shortfall is only $268,312, the finance director told the council Saturday at its annual budget retreat.

Last year the mayor and City Council had to cut as much as $1.1 million from the general fund to balance the current fiscal year budget which was implemented July 1.

Since this shortfall is smaller, city department heads won't need as much guidance from the City Council on how to balance the budget, Finance Director Al Martin said.

"We think we have a more manageable situation this year," Martin said.

"I think we are in good shape this year," Mayor Robert E. Bruchey said after the meeting.

The City Council did not discuss Saturday where they will make cuts.

The city is estimating total general fund revenues of about $22.78 million, up from about $22.16 million this year, Martin said.

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Martin estimates the city will have a $952,000 capital improvement program next year, up from $897,835 this year.

The budget proposal calls for about a 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent increase in water rates and about a 3.5 percent increase in sewer rates, Martin said.

The council briefly discussed the proposed new stadium for the Hagerstown Suns, but the budget numbers presented Saturday do not show how the City Council will pay for its conditional commitment of up to $3 million for the project.

The budget proposal does include money from the Washington County Commissioners' offer to pay $3 million of the $12 million to $15 million stadium cost by increasing the hotel-motel tax to 5 percent from the present 3 percent, Martin said.

The budget documents project that the county will, as promised, pay for its share of the debt service for the $3 million bond, which would be issued by the city, he said.

The room tax increase requires approval of the Maryland General Assembly.

Councilman J. Wallace McClure told Martin he wants the budget to show how the city is going to pay for elimination of the present Hagerstown Suns stadium if a new stadium is built.

"I think it's premature to ask that question," Councilman William M. Breichner said.

But if that's "premature," so is putting money in a planned budget for the proposed higher hotel tax before the Local Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly commits to endorsing the increase, McClure replied.

The council is scheduled to hear an update regarding stadium funding at its Feb. 1 meeting.

McClure has said he would try to petition to referendum any council decision to spend money on a new stadium.

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