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Council plans to discuss budget further

April 23, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown City Council made plans Tuesday to discuss details of a proposal to raise parking rates at a workshop prior to its April 29 public hearing on the annual budget.

For about 75 minutes Tuesday, the council discussed City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman's proposed balanced city budget of $84.1 million before making plans to discuss it more at 5 p.m. April 29 in council chambers.

An annual public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 29 in council chambers. The workshop was not scheduled previously.

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Council members said they particularly want to discuss Zimmerman's proposal 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 proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 also calls for increasing the monthly permit fees for the parking deck from $40 to $45.

The city is proposing the changes, estimated to bring in an additional $300,000, to pay for parking expenses that otherwise would have to be subsidized by the general fund, Finance Director Al Martin has said.

Some downtown merchants have been collecting signatures from customers in a petition drive to convince the council to alter or reject the proposal, which merchants say would make their job of drawing customers downtown more difficult and could turn some customers away.

"It is certainly something the community is talking about," Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said Tuesday. He has expressed skepticism that shoppers would decide not to come downtown to shop based on a 25-cent increase.

But just because he thinks the issue is "much ado about nothing" does not change the fact that some people have concerns, Metzner said.

At its April 8 meeting, a majority of the council expressed support for the increase, provided the city works with downtown merchants to find a way for them to reimburse customers for parking costs or develop some other way of defraying costs.

Zimmerman said he will give specific suggestions at the April 29 meeting on ways the matter can be resolved, such as with tokens.

At Tuesday's meeting, the council discussed a proposal to stop paying 50 percent of the cost of city employees' retirees' dependent health insurance while still paying 100 percent of retirees' health insurance.

At the council's direction, Zimmerman agreed to withdraw, at least for this year, the proposal that would have saved the city about $39,176. The council will use money from health savings to pay for the canceled change, he said.

Zimmerman's proposed spending plan also includes a property tax rate increase of 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. The city estimated the tax increase 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.




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