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City examines proposed budget

April 30, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Hagerstown city officials on Friday took their first in-depth look at the proposed $107.7 million budget that would go into effect July 1, marking some changes in community projects before going home for the weekend.

The budget, which must be balanced and adopted by May 31, is the city's spending plan for the next year for both government services and building projects.

No changes are final until the budget and supporting ordinances are adopted. Those votes tentatively are scheduled for May 24. That is one week after the May 17 city elections will put the mayor and City Council seats up for grabs, although the current council still will be in office. The new administration won't take office until May 30.

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On Friday, officials considered some sections of the budget, including the Community Development Block Grant program and portions of the Capital Improvements Program, including street projects and sewer system upgrades.

There are more budget discussions scheduled, and the first public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m., when the city will take comments on the Community Development Block Grant program, the city's property tax rate and the budget in general.

Federal block grants


The Community Development Block Grant program is funded mostly by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and this year there is a proposed $2.9 million in expenditures.

The City Council on Friday agreed to reduce money that had been budgeted for REACH Inc., which operates services for the homeless.

REACH initially had requested $29,115, but Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh, followed by fellow council members, questioned the increase over funding levels approved last year. For the current fiscal year, the city originally had budgeted $8,250, and after a mid-year request, spent another $10,300 on the group for a total this year of $18,550.

Larry Bayer, City Community Development Department director, said it was unclear what the increase in this year's request represented, and in response to the council's concerns, said he would reduce the $29,115 to reflect what represented spending for only security measures for the homeless shelter programs.

Bayer said he did not know immediately how much that would be. The council said any money reduced from the program would be available for a later request.

However, after the REACH discussion, council members, led by Kristin B. Aleshire, asked Bayer to pencil in $5,000 to fund a request by local nonprofit Children In Need.

The organization originally had been denied the $5,000 to assist low-income families with clothing and school supplies for children, although Friday's action would grant the request if approved May 24.

Roads, traffic signals


City Engineer Rodney Tissue told the mayor and council on Friday that a State Highway Administration project to improve the intersection of Dual Highway and Edgewood Drive could be slipping behind schedule.

"We haven't seen anything in the last six months," Tissue said.

The city has promised to pay one-third of the design price - the city's portion was about $33,000 - but city officials reaffirmed Friday that they have not committed money toward the project construction, which, Tissue said, appears to be climbing toward $9 million.

Tissue said there have been problems in acquiring land to widen those roads.

Another roads project likely will be reconsidered by the City Council before the budget is adopted.

West Baltimore Street between South Walnut and South Prospect streets is closer to gravel than pavement, council members said Friday, although some believed the $60,000 planned to repave the street might be spent better elsewhere.

City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said the street might become less safe after it is repaved due to its steep slope. Officials will have to balance their beliefs with requests from the neighborhood to repave the road.

City officials also said new traffic signals were planned along Garland Groh Boulevard, which runs along the Centre at Hagerstown. New traffic lights are planned in front of Wal-Mart, as well as at the entrance to the shopping center.

City Public Works Manager Eric Deike said the city also has made room in the budget to replace the current traffic lights with new light-emitting diode, or LED, lamps.

The city has budgeted $17,000 for each of the next five years to replace the green and red signal lights.

Deike said the LED lamps eventually will save about $46,000 in annual electric costs, and the lights last 13 to 15 years. The yellow signal lights, however, will not be replaced because they are on for less time and burn out slower than their green and red counterparts.

Water and sewer


The City Council heard a review of the water and sewer department plans for the upcoming year, but left the budgets untouched.

The city is under pressure from the Maryland Department of the Environment to make improvements to the sewage treatment system after multiple spills of wastewater that had not been fully treated.

If the city doesn't meet a schedule laid out by the MDE to address problems, the city could face more sanctions in addition to a fine of $85,750 leveled earlier this year.

The sewer system budget alone has $10.5 million in spending planned for the upcoming year, and some items still could be added, sewer plant Superintendent Donnie Barton said.

Metzner urged water and sewer officials to be upfront about needed items.

"The overflows into the Antietam (Creek) are something that literally we want to avoid at any expense," Metzner said.

To that, Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said, "Amen."

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