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Tax hikes draw opposition

May 01, 2002|BY DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

dank@herald-mail.com

Proposed tax increases for Hagerstown were strongly opposed and the city subsidy of the ice rink drew support during Tuesday public hearings on the city's proposed $79.55 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Eleven of the approximately 40 people who attended the hearings at City Hall testified before the Mayor and City Council.

The council still could make changes to the proposed budget, which was prepared by City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman. The council is scheduled to vote on the budget and tax rate on May 28.

Of the five people who testified on the proposed 7.2 percent increases to the city's real estate and business property tax rates, four said they opposed a tax increase.

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"Tax increases of any kind, especially tax increases over a long period of time, do not, I repeat, do not attract new industries or residences into a community," said Ira Kauffman Jr., who was on the City Council from 1977 to 1981.

Kauffman said the council should cut expenses to avoid a tax increase next year, or the next several years, as city projections anticipate.

James Grinder, who put up signs protesting the proposed tax increases in his yard, said renters should be charged a tax or fee. He also said the city should cut spending by having city employees pay for their own insurance, and "stop giving to every charity that cries on (your) door."

Grinder said the tax increases are prompting him to sell his properties in the city and leave Hagerstown.

One woman said she and her husband have "passed working age," but have to continue to work to pay the taxes on their home.

Merlin Williams said that at one time he thought Hagerstown was conservative, but now it seems that the elected officials are "tax and spend liberals."

"Why don't we just move to Massachusetts and get it over with," Williams said.

Williams suggested cutting expenses by eliminating proposed raises for city employees.

Williams also questioned the need for spending $300,000 on a new administration building for the Water Department.

The proposed budget calls for building a new Water Department administration building at the city's West End Reservoir, city Finance Director Al Martin said. Water Department offices are now on Memorial Boulevard.

Water fund spending, like the sewer fund, is paid for with money received from water and sewer rates and fees, not property taxes.

The city's general fund, which pays for departments including police and fire, is the only fund that receives money from city taxes.

Williams said the city should stop subsidizing the ice rink.

But three of the five people who testified on the budget supported the city's $134,500 subsidy of the facility off Security Road.

"This ice rink is an investment in our city and our children," Ginger Pembroke said. She said the rink is an important recreational facility, which also brings in people, and their money, from outside the area.

Britton Miller of Waynesboro, Pa., said the rink is an economic benefit to the city because of the outsiders it draws to Hagerstown.

One woman said the rink and City Park were the two main reasons her family felt comfortable moving to Hagerstown from Los Angeles last year.

The proposed tax increases would help balance the proposed $25.7 million city general fund, which calls for increased spending including about $1.2 million to cover the additional cost of employee wages and benefits, and about $500,000 in increased spending on vehicles and construction projects.

The proposed real estate tax rate increase would add $53 to the tax bill of a Hagerstown homeowner with property assessed at $100,000. That homeowner's real estate tax bill would go from $732 this year to $785 next year.

The business equipment tax rate increase would cost a business with equipment assessed at $10,000 an additional $13 next year. That business owner's tax bill, which would be $183 this year, would be about $196 next year.

The proposed 3.5 percent increases to the city's water and sewer rates would take effect on Oct. 1.

Together, those increases would cost the average water and sewer customer, who uses 13,000 gallons of water every three months, an additional $8.32 a year.

That customer's water bill, now $17.55 every three months, would increase to $18.20 every three months.

That customer's sewer bill, now $41.47 every three months, would increase to $42.90 every three months.

Also during the hearing, Mary Baykan, director of the Washington County Free Library, and Washington County Community Action Council Director of Services Glenda Helman thanked the council for the city's financial support.

CAC receives money from the city's Community Development Block Grant Program, which is federal money the city disperses.

The proposed budget includes $16,000 for the library.

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