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City budget plan reviewed

April 07, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Two Hagerstown City Council members called Tuesday for tweaks that would decrease a possible tax increase included in the city's proposed $95.6 million budget for the next fiscal year.

City Finance Director Alfred Martin Tuesday reviewed major points of the city's 400-page budget, which outlines the spending and revenue plans for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and ends June 30, 2005.

The city is facing a $1.1 million budget gap in next year's plan, although the fee hikes, increased borrowing and a property tax hike would close that gap, if they're approved. The city must adopt a balanced budget.

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Martin said the 1.9 percent city property tax increase would translate to 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed value on real estate, and 3.75 cents per $100 of assessed value on business property.

Martin said the 1.5-cent hike would mean another $22.50 on a home with an assessed value of $150,000.

During the council's work session, Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh requested more information regarding Hagerstown Housing Authority-owned property, which she said gets tax relief. She said if that were changed, the money could be used to help ease budget constraints.

"There's so much property that they have, and you know, we're selling the citizens short," Nigh said.

Martin said there is an agreement between the housing authority and the city, but it would have to be examined before anything could be changed. The housing authority receives support from local, state and federal government.

Martin said one thing it may be more feasible to change is a trash-collection agreement between the housing authority and the city. Martin said trash collection for the housing authority is free.

City Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire agreed with Nigh that there are "quite a few tax-exempt properties within the city," but requested that Martin consider making more cuts.

Aleshire called for the $300,000 that Martin said would be raised by the property tax increase to be covered without a tax increase.

The proposed budget already includes more than two dozen fee increases, ranging from an increase in the cost to gain a building permit within city limits to an increase in the cost of civilian fingerprinting by the city police department.

Martin said citizens who wish to see budget documents can find the executive summary on the city's Web site at www.hagerstownmd.org, but Web users must have proper software. Paper copies of the executive summary can be obtained from the city.

The entire budget can be viewed for free at the city clerk's office or at Washington County Free Library. A limited number of personal copies can be bought for about $20, Martin said.

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