City council holds budget hearings

April 28, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN - Focus on the children, Janet and Gordon Bartels told the Hagerstown City Council Tuesday night.

Janet Bartels, 62, of Kenly Avenue, said she has gotten involved in the C-SAFE after-school program in the past year.

"It's become like family, and I think the community needs to serve as family to the children. And I urge you again to support after-school programs," Janet Bartels told the council.

Janet and Gordon Bartels were among the few people who spoke during a public comment hearing on grant funding, which is part of the city's proposed fiscal 2004-05 budget. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

To balance the city's $95.6 million proposed budget, officials would raise property taxes 1.9 percent - 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed value on real estate - as well as increase or create more than two dozen fees for services throughout most city departments.


Some of the increases include fees for building permits, engineering reviews, police special assignments, and some parking permits.

The city held separate hearings Tuesday night for the budget proposals for the property tax increase, the overall budget, water and sewer rate increases, and federal grant spending.

No one spoke Tuesday night regarding the tax proposal or water and sewer rate increase plans.

After city residents voiced their opinions on the city's proposed budget, the City Council went through several procedural moves to prepare to pass the budget.

Several ordinances to adopt the proposed budget as law were introduced during Tuesday's voting session. After more scheduled work sessions, the city is scheduled to adopt the budget on May 25.

The public hearings were the only opportunities for people to speak for or against the budget plans, although residents can still contact the mayor or the city clerk before the scheduled budget adoption date, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said.

The Bartelses, now retired, said that since moving here they have become involved in several local community groups.

Gordon Bartels, 61, said he was "shocked to learn that C-SAFE was not included" in Community Development Block Grant funding. C-SAFE was formerly the HotSpots program.

"In my opinion, this is exactly the kind of plan that should be supported. ... It should be extended, not cut back," Gordon Bartels said.

He said he supported a $45,000 request from the C-SAFE program, which runs an after-school program at four city elementary schools.

C-SAFE program coordinator Carolyn Brooks asked at the meeting that the city allocate the money from its Community Development Block Grant Fund budget.

The block grant program is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and by income from the programs supported by the grants, City Finance Director Alfred Martin said.

This year about 40 programs are scheduled to receive $2.78 million in block grant money. Martin said there were about 70 funding requests totaling more than $5 million this year.

During the meeting, Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire commented on the low number of people who came out for the hearings. Janet Bartels was the only person to comment on the overall budget.

"I find that odd in a community of 38,000 people ... that only one person would show up," Aleshire said.

Regarding the block grant money, councilwomen Penny M. Nigh and Carol N. Moller agreed that the C-SAFE requests seemed to be worthwhile.

"There is a need, and it is a great need," for funding for children, Nigh said.

She asked Zimmerman to look into redistributing the funding to make room for the program.

After the meeting, Zimmerman said money for the C-SAFE program is "an area we'll need to work on," but overall he said the low turnout may be "an indication that people are comfortable" with the budget.

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