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City to mull budget

April 01, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The Hagerstown City Council on Wednesday was given a $95.6 million budget proposal that would be funded in part by a 1.9 percent increase in city property taxes, increases in building, parking and utility fees and an increase to the city's debt level.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said the proposed budget for the 2005 fiscal year reflects an improving revenue picture, but said several items were left out of next year's spending plan, including some staff positions for several departments.

"There's not a whole lot of new stuff in the general budget," Zimmerman said, but "we're starting to catch up on some of the deferrals that we had in prior years."

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The proposed fiscal 2005 budget would increase overall spending by $11.4 million over the current year's spending plan.

The city expected as much as a $1.8 million deficit earlier this year, but after some "fine tuning" and after officials received assurances from state officials that $600,000 in gasoline taxes would come to the city, the deficit was lowered to about $1.1 million, City Finance Director Alfred Martin said.

By law, the city must pass a balanced budget.

City officials have proposed a 1.9 percent increase in the real estate and business property tax rates. That translates to a 1.5 cent increase per $100 of assessed value on real estate property tax, and a 3.75 cent increase per $100 of assessed value on business property.

Together, the increases would generate about $300,000 in new revenues, officials said.

For someone who owns a $150,000 home, the property tax increase would mean an additional $22.50 on the annual property tax bill, officials said.

City water and sewer customers would see a 3.5 percent increase in rates that will be effective Oct. 1, Martin said. Officials said the increases would cost the average customer within the city an additional $8.84 a year.

The revenue from those increases would be used to help pay off $8.6 million in new borrowing that will be used to help pay for improvements to the city's fresh water treatment plant in Williamsport, the city waste water treatment plant and other upgrades, according to the budget document.

The proposals would increase several other fees as well. While city projections show a need for approximately 19 new firefighters citywide, none is being funded this year. The city has considered increasing the number of code enforcers; there are no increases there either.

The number of city staff would decrease from 455 to 450. There would be a total of six fewer police officers: Two grant-funded positions would end and four positions that it was agreed would not be filled to settle a contract dispute. There will be two more electric utility workers, and one less position in the Community Development Department.

More money than last year would be shifted to equipment upgrades and construction projects.

Among the items that would be better supported this year are the city's annual street resurfacing program, which would have a total of $245,000 budgeted. That money includes $50,000 for Wesel Boulevard and $120,000 for Pennsylvania Avenue.

For the Hagerstown Police Department and public works, the plan would put $259,000 into a new dump truck, four new police cruisers and other equipment.

Several new projects are on the books for next year as well, contributing to further debt of about $2 million in the city's general fund. The majority of the new debt - $1.4 million - would be used to pay to widen Eastern Boulevard. The rest of that $2.5 million project would be supported by developer fees.

While the police union contract was settled earlier this year, the contracts for the three unions representing firefighters, electric workers and public works employees have yet to be settled.

Martin has said the outcome of those talks could further affect the budget, as could any changes from the General Assembly.

The City Council will begin reviewing the budget in its work session next week. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for April 27 at City Hall, and the budget is expected to be adopted May 25.

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