Town's budget figures doubted

May 09, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ


On paper, Williamsport's proposed $4.4 million budget for next year raises spending about 40 percent.

However, Clerk/Treasurer James R. Castle said this year's budget numbers - and, therefore, the apparent increase - probably are wrong.

Castle said the town's 2005-06 budget has inaccurate and incomplete estimates. So, while this year's budget is listed as $3.1 million, he doesn't think that's right.

On Monday, the Williamsport Town Council voted unanimously to keep the town's property tax rate at 40.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. It has stayed at that level - or an equivalent under a different assessment method - for more than 20 years, the town government has said.

Officials have tried to turn the town's poor finances around after rounds of bad news, including deficits and missing money.

In March, accountant Ron Shifler said the town's combined deficit for 2004 and 2005 is more than $840,000 if depreciation of assets is factored in and about $425,000 if it's not.


Castle said Monday that the current budget is "bare bones," yet the town still needs to cut $46,000 from the general fund to balance it.

He said more than $250,000 already has been cut from an earlier draft, including $175,000 in proposed paving.

The town must pass its 2006-07 budget before the next fiscal year begins July 1, Castle said.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for June 12 at 6:45 p.m. The council likely will approve the budget that evening.

The proposed 2006-07 budget includes across-the-board raises of 5 percent for town employees.

It includes $107,000 for improving the town's deteriorating sewage system. Castle said the town has asked the Maryland Department of the Environment for about $4 million to $5 million in loans and grants for the project.

About $50,000 is in the budget to fix up the town's pool, which is around $20,000 less than initially proposed, Castle said.

He said health-care costs would be lower in the next budget, "but anything that could go up has gone up," such as gasoline and insurance.

The town's general fund is proposed at $1.1 million next year. This year's general fund was listed at about $940,000.

The largest increase is in the electricity fund, which is proposed at $2.3 million, compared to $1.5 million this year. Castle said a new electricity contract with Allegheny Energy is expected to raise customers' costs by about 40 percent.

The water and sewer fund is proposed at $975,000. This year's water and sewer fund is listed as $742,000.

But, Castle reiterated, this year's budget figures "might not be right."

An accounting change appears to explain a small percentage of the difference from this year to next year. The proposed 2006-07 general fund includes, for the first time, $162,000 for depreciation, Castle said.

The town also is planning to hire an outside mowing company. Castle said the town's public works department once had 12 employee positions, but now has four. The new budget calls for hiring one more employee in the department.

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