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City budget calls for tax, fee increases

April 02, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Property tax and parking meter rates would increase in Hagerstown under City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman's $84.1 million budget proposal for the coming fiscal year.

Zimmerman went over the budget with the Hagerstown City Council during Tuesday's work session. The city is scheduled to discuss the budget at meetings, starting next week, and to adopt the budget in late May, Zimmerman said.

Council members Carol N. Moller and Kristin B. Aleshire said they were pleased with what they read and heard Tuesday about the budget.

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The proposed total budget would be 5.4 percent more than the $79.8 million budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The proposed general fund - which pays for city departments including police, fire and public works - would increase by 1.2 percent, from $25.7 million to $26 million.

To balance the budget, Zimmerman and city staff had to address a projected $2 million shortfall, which is larger than the shortfall in past years, Zimmerman said.

While the city balanced the budget during the last two fiscal years mostly with revenue increases through tax and fee hikes, for this budget the city wanted to focus instead on cutting expenses, Zimmerman said.

The budget has $1.5 million in expense cuts and about $500,000 in revenue increases, he said.

The budget calls for increasing the property tax rate by 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed value, which it is estimated would raise an additional $277,500. For a home with an assessed value of $150,000 the increase would add $22.50 to the property owner's annual tax bill, he said.

The city increased the property tax rate by 4 cents for the last fiscal year and by 3.6 cents for the current fiscal year. Those increases, Zimmerman said, "were the largest rate increases we have been able to identify in the city's history."

The budget calls for increasing the parking meter rates from 25 cents to 50 cents per hour and raising parking fines for expired meters from $7 to $10.

The size of the city's shortfall increased from $1.3 million to $2 million earlier this year due to cuts included in the Maryland governor's proposed budget, Zimmerman said.

"There is no question the governor's proposed budget has had a significant impact on our deficit," he said.

The budget calls for 453 employee positions, 322 union and 131 nonunion, an increase of two over the current budget year. However, the city is eliminating and freezing several vacant nonunion positions.

The city is adding two firefighter positions, four police department positions and four code enforcement employees. The police employees would be funded through grants and the code enforcement employees would be funded through the city's rental registration licensing program, Zimmerman said.

The budget does not call for any layoffs but it does call for a "Vacancy Management Program," under which some job vacancies may be kept unfilled for a few months to save money. The budget predicts the city can save $250,000 through the program.

While the city traditionally gives some type of a cost of living increase to all employees, it can't afford the $136,500 it would cost to give nonunion employees the 2.5 percent cost of living increase it is giving members of two union groups, Finance Director Al Martin said.

The budget also calls for cutting in half the sick leave buy-back program for nonunion employees.

Through the city's sick leave buy-back policy, employees can choose to sell some of their unused sick days back to the city each year.

Under Zimmerman's proposal, nonunion city employees would only be given one day's pay for every two sick days, Zimmerman said. The change should save the city about $48,500, he said.

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