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City Council passes budget for upcoming fiscal year

May 24, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN

After putting off a decision on changing employee health insurance and wages, the Hagerstown City Council agreed 3-2 Tuesday on a $134.6 million budget for the next fiscal year.

The council also voted 4-1 to keep the real property tax rate at 79.8 cents per $100 of assessed value. Although the tax rate will remain steady, taxes will go up for many because of rising property assessments.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner argued that the wage increases - recommended in a consultant's report - needed to be done as part of upcoming negotiations with city labor unions. "You don't give compensation without a contract," he said.

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He suggested that the health insurance discussion be put off, too, allowing the city council to pass a tax rate and a budget for next year - but not commit to specific spending.

Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer proposed dropping the tax rate slightly next year, but the rest of the council didn't support the idea.

Metzner said that would be "smoke and mirrors." He said it would save each taxpayer about $10, but keeping the tax rate the same and instead "prepaying" $600,000 in health-care costs for the following year - which the council agreed to do - would save taxpayers about $20 apiece.

Cromer and Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire voted against the budget.

Cromer said of the spending increase over this year's budget, "I think we can do better than this."

Metzner said the budget is expensive only because of the wage study recommendation, which is expected to cost the city an estimated $5 million over three years to fully fund.

The $134.6 million budget is about 24 percent higher than the 2005-06 budget. Aleshire said most of the increase is connected to the city's utilities.

The 2006-07 budget includes 10 new employees for the fire department and two for the police department.

The city is tentatively planning to hire nine more employees for the fire department and two more for the police department the following year.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman released a budget proposal March 31 that would keep the tax rate the same, but didn't address the new fire and police department employees and didn't factor in the wage increase.

Zimmerman offered supplemental plans for the new employees and the wage increase, but each plan would have come with a tax increase.

Over several weeks, the city council pared the budget to the point where it included both the new fire and police employees and the wage increase without raising the property tax rate.

On May 16, the City Council unanimously approved a first reading of the budget and the property tax rate.

Tuesday's vote was required for final approval.

The city is required to have a 2006-07 budget in place by the end of this month - at least 30 days before the next fiscal year starts July 1.

Most council members said they didn't support raising the tax rate. Metzner said he would vote for a tax increase only to hire the fire and police employees and include the first year of the wage increase plan.




How they voted



To keep the real property tax rate at 79.8 cents per $100 of assessed value for the fiscal year that begins July 1:

Yes - Kristin B. Aleshire, Lewis C. Metzner, Penny M. Nigh and Alesia D. Parson-McBean

No - Kelly S. Cromer

To approve a $134.6 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1:

Yes - Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, Penny M. Nigh and Alesia D. Parson-McBean

No - Kristin B. Aleshire and Kelly S. Cromer

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