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Council looks at budget requests for nonprofits

May 10, 2006|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Funding for community groups was examined Tuesday during the latest round of Hagerstown budget crafting.

For part of its meeting, the Hagerstown City Council turned its attention to requests from the Washington County Free Library, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Discovery Station and other organizations.

The city council has been working for about six weeks to create a budget for 2006-07.

Some council members have insisted on not increasing the tax rate. Councilman Lewis C. Metzner has said he only would agree to raise taxes to pay for new public safety positions.

On Tuesday, during a review of possible cuts, three council members said they support the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts' request to increase its funding from $27,000 this year to $40,000 next year.

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Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire was opposed. Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer was undecided.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II noted that the museum is planning events to celebrate its 75th anniversary.

A majority of the council didn't support giving $10,000 more to the library, which received $30,000 this year.

Council members criticized The Maryland Theatre, which asked for its funding to increase from $5,000 this year to $15,000 next year.

Metzner said the theater stopped hosting Western Maryland Blues Fest events and doesn't help or communicate with the city council. He recommended that funding stay at the current level.

Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh said the theater charges the city each year to put on Holly Fest, a free community event.

"Until they get a better social responsibility, they may not get any more in the future," Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean said.

Council members rejected a request to increase funding for Discovery Station from $10,000 to $30,000. Aleshire said the organization just got a bond bill from the state.

The 2006-07 budget, as proposed by City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman, stands at $134.4 million, up 24.2 percent from this year. It would not raise the tax rate, although tax bills still could go up through rising property assessments.

Two budget alternatives ? boosting the salaries of city employees whom a study found to be underpaid and hiring more employees for the fire and police departments ? were proposed separately. If added to the base budget, under Zimmerman's plan, each would require a tax increase, unless the city council cut elsewhere.

On Saturday, the council tentatively agreed to Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker's request to hire 18 more firefighters and a training captain. Ten positions will be added in 2006-07, and nine the following year.

The city council will hold a public hearing on the budget on May 16. The council must pass a final budget by the end of the month.

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