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City plans no increase in property taxes

April 01, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The City of Hagerstown on Thursday released its budget proposal for the 2005-06 fiscal year, revealing an improved financial picture for the city and an increase in planned spending and more borrowing.

The $107.7 million budget proposal is the first to break the $100 million mark, and exceeds the current fiscal year's expected spending by about $11.4 million.

City officials do not propose an increase in the property tax rate.

Property tax rates increased in each of the last four years, with three of those increases approved by the current administration.

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Also, for the first time in several years, there is no projected budget shortfall. This time last year, budget officials said their projected revenues were $1.3 million less than anticipated expenditures, and they were forced to further reduce proposed expenditures before the budget was approved.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman, in a written message included in the budget document, said rising property values are one of the key reasons the city's financial outlook is improving.

The 410-page, 10-section budget document shows that the city's general fund would account for $30.5 million in spending. The largest contribution to the general fund is property taxes, which are expected to be $17.3 million.

Most of the remaining budget spending would be in the city light and water and sewer departments. Those departments get most of their revenues from customer bills.

More than half of the general fund, or about $15.9 million, would be spent on public safety, including police and fire protection.

The proposed budget would allocate $9.7 million to the Hagerstown Police Department, including about $6.3 million for wages. The budget assumes 101 full-time, sworn police officers and administrators and another 21 full-time employees.

The Hagerstown Fire Department would receive $4.6 million in the coming budget year, although the budget does not reflect an increase in staff, an item noted in Zimmerman's comments included with the budget.

According to Zimmerman's comments, there is a need for 19 more paid firefighters in the city, but the budget does not reflect any proposed fire department staffing changes.

The city plans to take on an additional $12.7 million in new debt this year, and expects to pay a total of $4.7 million in debt service. The projected total outstanding debt is $45.3 million.

While there are no proposed property tax increases, there are some proposed fee increases.

Some City Light Department and City Water and Sewer Department customer fees would increase, although the increases are not specified in the budget.

Trash collection fees would increase by $8 a year to $108. Monthly parking deck and lot fees would increase by between $2 and $5, depending on the parking area.

This is the last budget to be considered by the current administration before the May elections.

By law, a balanced budget must be passed by May 31 and will take effect July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.

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