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City residents require better budget solution

April 30, 2002

Hagerstown's elected officials take their $79.5 million budget to public hearing tonight at City Hall, not because they expect to hear kudos from the public, but because it's required by law. We urge citizens to attend and ask some tough questions of elected officcials.

If this budget passes as-is, it would raise real estate and business equipment taxes rates by 7.2 percent. It would also be the second budget in a row that's been balanced with a tax increase and the second year council has offered no significant plan for reducing costs or finding revenues elsewhere.

Give Councilwoman Penny Nigh credit for at least proposing something, although the idea of eliminating all city contributions to nonprofit organizations seems heartless. Certainly there are economies that do not require saying "tough luck" to the agencies that deal with the city's poorest and most helpless people.

Like what? Like seriously pursuing departmental mergers with county government. Like looking at the "workplace re-engineering" proposed last October by James Bestpitch, staff representative of Council 67 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. In Cumberland, such a system cross-trained workers and reduced employment by attrition instead of through layoffs.

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And why not look at the incentive paid city workers for unused sick leave days? It cost the city $281,000 last year and $2.3 million for the last 10 years. It's a nice idea to keep employees working instead of calling in sick, but it is really esssential? Any why not rental-property inspection, which would keep the owners of ramshackle properties from shifting the tax burden to those who take pride in what they own?

We do not expect immediate action on any of these items. But city residents should not agree to accept another tax boost unless city officials promise more than an endless string of increases. It's showtime for the mayor and council and unless they can show that they've at least broken a sweat over these matters, they will not deserve citizens' confidence in the future.

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