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City budget talks continue

April 19, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said Tuesday that hiring 19 new fire department employees in the next two years is so important that it's worth raising taxes to do it.

During a work session, Metzner and other council members offered comments, questions and philosophies as they took a small, early step toward creating next year's city spending plan.

On March 31, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman released a proposed 2006-07 budget of $134.4 million.

The proposed base budget would keep next year's city property tax rate the same as this year's. However, two alternative plans - boosting the salaries of underpaid city employees or hiring more employees for the police and fire departments - each would require a tax increase.

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Councilman Kristin C. Aleshire said Tuesday that while the proposed base budget calls for $26.2 million more in spending next year, most is for "enterprise" funds, including electricity, water and sewer.

Last week, Aleshire distributed 14 pages of comments and questions he compiled after scrutinizing the budget proposal. He also passed out a report then with suggestions on how the city could either save or bring in an additional $2 million.

Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer on Tuesday suggested combining ambulance service with the fire departments and restructuring the police department to make it more efficient. "You could save a ton of money in that department," she said.

"Public safety is the No. 1 issue with me," Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh said. "If you don't have public safety, you don't have a town."

Under one supplemental spending plan, the city would hire three police officers, nine firefighters and a fire- training captain. The city's property tax rate would go up 1.86 cents.

The following year, the city would consider hiring two more police officers and nine more firefighters.

Nigh said Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker has pushed for the additional employees since the last time Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II was in office.

Bruchey previously was mayor from 1997 to 2001. He took over again March 1, replacing Richard F. Trump, who resigned.

Metzner said the main topics for the current budget talks are whether to increase taxes, hire more employees and adopt a consultant's recommendation to raise the salaries of underpaid employees.

The city council is expected to meet with the consultant May 2, so that discussion was put off until then.

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