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Budget would cut city raises

May 16, 2001

Budget would cut city raises



By ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown's property tax rate would go up by about 5.8 percent next fiscal year under a tentative agreement reached Tuesday that eliminates raises for city employees.

The tax rate would increase from 69.2 cents per $100 of assessed value to 73.2 cents. For a homeowner with a $100,000 home, the property tax bill would increase by $40, according to City Finance Director Al Martin.

The City Council is expected to vote on the 2001-2002 tax rate on May 22. The council will also vote on a $74.8 million budget for the next fiscal year, including $24.5 million in the general fund. The 2001-2002 fiscal year begins July 1.

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More than a month ago, the proposed property tax increase was expected to be 7.3 cents, or 10.5 percent.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and council members on Tuesday grappled with how to keep the tax rate more reasonable.

One of the main obstacles was a health-care cost increase that was 43 percent more than expected, Martin said.

Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein suggested canceling a planned 2.5 percent raise for city employees, to save about $287,000.

Then, council members agreed to change the limit of a health-care claim-protection clause, which would trim another $45,000 from the general fund budget.

They also decided to slice $50,000 from next year's contingency fund, cutting it from $125,000 to $75,000.

Finally, Martin and City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman vowed to find $60,000 more in cuts.

A majority of council members rejected Bruchey's suggestion that they reach into the city's $3.8 million general fund reserves to cover the shortfall.

Bruchey argued that even after removing nearly $290,000, the reserves would be about 14 percent of the general fund. City guidelines call for it to be at least 10 percent, according to Martin.

"I just don't think it's prudent to dip into the reserve fund," said Councilman William M. Breichner. "I think it's disastrous."

Council members debated how much they needed to cut the size of the tax rate increase.

Councilman J. Wallace McClure preferred that it drop to 3 cents, but said he would accept 4 cents. Saum-Wicklein contended that 5 cents was passable, but she joined the rest of the council in looking for further reductions.

In paring down the budget, council members avoided eliminating any city jobs.

They briefly discussed cutting a fire marshal position. Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker objected to that idea saying the reduction would hurt a department that functions well in a city with many arsons.

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