Hagerstown cuts more than $2M from this year's budget

September 29, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- City officials agreed Tuesday to about $2.2 million in cuts to this year's Hagerstown budget, most of which the state imposed.

Trying to fill a state budget gap of more than $700 million, the Maryland Board of Public Works in August ordered more than $450 million in cuts. Nearly half was to be made by cutting aid to localities.

For Hagerstown, that meant a cut of $1.58 million -- 92 percent -- from its highway user revenue and $275,000 in police protection funding, a total of $1.85 million from the current budget.

Combined with a $421,000 shortfall in other projected revenues -- such as income and real estate taxes -- city council members were faced Tuesday with cutting $2.27 million, or 5.6 percent of the general fund.


City staff outlined possible cuts covering all but $101,000 of the shortfall. The council informally agreed to have the staff carry out those cuts.

The budget discussion, held at the Elgin Station community center in the Gateway Crossing development, was part of a broader meeting about the city's priorities, particularly in spending.

With department heads there to answer questions, council members also agreed to start thinking about possible cuts for fiscal year 2011, when municipalities expect to face a similar financial strain.

City staff suggested nearly 20 general ideas for tightening future budgets, including putting off vehicle purchases, giving city employees a retirement program, and reducing the number of part-time, temporary and seasonal employees.

Ray Foltz, the city's assistant finance director, said cost-of-living-adjustment raises and step increases are unlikely next year.

The city is trying to avoid layoffs, but furloughs are possible, he said.

Councilman Martin E. Brubaker said that unlike some governments in the region, Hagerstown has been able to protect its employees from layoffs in the current rough economy.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said union and non-union employees need to share the cuts.

"Our first commitment is to the community," Zimmerman said.

Alfred Martin, the city's finance director, said the city spent about $7.4 million last year in road-related projects. After the new state cuts, it will have about $175,000 for this year.

More than a quarter of the city cuts was a savings in debt service. Martin said the $617,000 savings was due to bonds being issued later than expected, so the city must make one payment on them this fiscal year instead of two.

As part of a cut to the city's recreation department, the council agreed to close its Skate Park at Fairgrounds Park. City officials said the Skate Park, which has no heating, has had low turnout, possibly because it only can open when the weather is warm.

Council members suggested other ways to spend less or take in more money in the future.

Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood suggested studying how the city's golf course is used.

Councilman Forrest Easton encouraged city staff to use more state inmate labor, as other local municipalities have.

One staff recommendation was installing red-light cameras "that would generate substantial revenue for the City, in excess of $250,000, once implemented over a full year."

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said he didn't mind the cameras to make the streets safer, but balked at treating them as a money maker.

Budget cuts, present and future

The Hagerstown City Council informally approved about $2.2 million in cuts to this year's general fund on Tuesday.

The state is cutting about $1.58 million in highway user revenue money and $275,000 from a police protection fund the city was supposed to get.

The remaining $421,000 in city cuts will include:

o $617,373 from debt service, or 23.5 percent of the budget line (the city will have to pay less than expected)

o $122,216 from professional development, or 65.7 percent

o $110,682 from capital outlays not in the capital improvement plan, or 53.7 percent

o $10,400 from postage, freight, etc., or 9.1 percent

o $69,850 from professional services, or 8.9 percent

Some general areas in which the city might consider future cuts:

o Delaying vehicle purchases

o Not giving cost-of-living adjustment raises or step increases to employees

o Imposing unpaid employee furloughs, eliminating sick-leave sellback, reducing sick-leave payouts when employees are terminated

o Having a retirement incentive program

o Auditing Antietam Cable's franchise fees

o Cutting services or programs

o No longer hiring a federal lobbyist

o Increasing fees

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