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Candidates say they'll find ways to cut budget

May 14, 2001

Candidates say they'll find ways to cut budget



By DAN KULIN

dank@herald-mail.com

Although stuck with whatever tax rate the current Hagerstown City Council approves, the group of council members elected Tuesday will be able to make any changes to the city's budget, which is scheduled to be passed by the outgoing council May 22.

Most council candidates say if elected they will take a closer look at various city operations and departments in search of savings or additional revenue, but they did not point to specific budget cuts.

A few candidates did specify which budget cuts they would promote if elected.

- Democratic council candidate Kristin B. Aleshire said instead of focusing on potential budget cuts, the council should be looking for ways to increase revenue other than raising property taxes.

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Aleshire said he would review the fees for planning, zoning and engineering services and permits. Also, he said he would review how many miles of roads the city maintains to see if there is undercounting, which could impact the city's share of gasoline tax and vehicle registration revenue.

Aleshire said budget cuts he would make include $15,000 for a lobbyist and $30,000 for improvements to Municipal Stadium.

- Republican council candidate Victoria K. Bodnar said she would support some budget adjustments, but she's not sure exactly what those would be. Bodnar said she would want to meet with all department managers before making any decisions.

- Republican Councilman Alfred W. Boyer said if re-elected he would review the city's vehicle maintenance operations. Maybe, he said, the city should have oil changes done by a private company instead of having staff do the work.

Also, Boyer said he would push to implement a program to reward city employees who find ways to save money. Boyer said perhaps employees could receive 5 percent of the savings they discover.

- Republican council candidate Richard G. Everhart said there are parts of the budget he would study, if elected.

"There are some things in the budget I disagree with," Everhart said, but he refused to specify which budget items concerned him.

- Democratic council candidate N. Linn Hendershot said he would like to reinstate the $25,000 for the Hagerstown Home Store, currently cut from the budget. But he didn't say how the council could fund the allocation.

"If you cut anything right now you're going to hurt services," Hendershot said.

- Democratic council candidate Ira P. Kauffman Jr. said he would support reducing city staff by not filling supervisory positions after resignations or retirements.

He said he expects a police captain and a city fire marshal will retire or resign.

- Democratic Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said, "If re-elected I would take a more significant look at (the Community Rescue Service) and (the Washington County Community Action Council). Those are not appropriately funded in this budget."

Currently, there is $50,000 in the budget for emergency services, which council members have said could go to CRS, the private ambulance company serving most of Hagerstown and parts of the county. CRS had asked the city for $200,000.

There is no money in the budget for a residential housing program being proposed by the CAC; representatives had asked for $51,000.

Metzner said he didn't know where additional money for CRS or CAC would come from, but he said CRS should among the first items the next council addresses.

- Republican council candidate Carol N. Moller said reducing city staff levels by attrition "may be a good way" to save money. Moller said she would look for other ways to trim the budget, although she didn't specify which items should be cut.

- Republican council candidate Michael E. Nehring said he would ask for a review of city staff positions to see what jobs could be cut. He said he would exclude the police and fire departments from such a review.

Also, Nehring said he would want to review the city's subsidy of the ice rink and support for neighborhood events and parades.

He did not have any specific cuts in mind.

Nehring said he would also want to re-examine using some of the city's reserve funds.

- Democratic council candidate Penny May Nigh said from what she's heard at recent council budget meetings it appears there isn't much, if anything, to cut from the budget.

The current City Council is scheduled to vote May 22 on a tax rate and proposed $74.8 million budget for the 2001-2002 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The council on May 1 gave preliminary approval to a real estate tax rate of 73.8 cents per $100 of assessed value, which is 4.6 cents higher than the current rate of 69.2 cents. That 6.6 percent tax increase would cost a homeowner with a $100,000 home an extra $46 annually.

City Finance Director Al Martin said the new council will not be able to change the tax rate because they will take office too close to the deadline for reporting the tax rate to Washington County.

The city is required to inform the county of the tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year by the end of May, Martin said. The county provides notice of the tax rate and publishes tax bills for the city.

The new group of council members are scheduled to take office May 28.

The current council is still looking for ways to cut the budget and reduce the expected tax increase. Councilmembers are scheduled to meet for additional budget talks on Tuesday, which is also election day.

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