Jobs, tax rate frozen in city budget proposal

April 06, 2010|By ANDREW SCHOTZ


The following story, published in the Wednesday, April 7, 2010, print edition of The Herald-Mail and posted online April 6, reported that the City of Hagerstown, in a proposed budget, is considering five unpaid furlough days for employees and five days when certain departments would shut down. Employees in departments that don't shut down -- such as police, fire and utilities -- would have five more furlough days instead, for a total of 10.

HAGERSTOWN -- Hagerstown is considering a 2010-2011 budget proposal 16 percent leaner than the current budget, with five days apiece of furloughs and department shutdowns, but no layoffs.

The city's property-tax rate would be frozen under the $134.9 million budget proposal. This year's overall budget is $160.1 million.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman formally presented the budget proposal to the mayor and city council Tuesday.

The council has until May 31 to pass a budget for fiscal year 2011, which begins July 1.


The budget proposal includes a $37.7 million general fund -- 7 percent lower than it is now.

Of $2.8 million trimmed from the current general fund, about $2.1 million would come from wages and benefits, some of which the city would need to negotiate with its unions.

Some proposed measures and savings are: eliminating step raises and cost-of-living adjustments ($769,251), reducing overtime pay ($156,350) and stopping a sick-leave buyback ($111,746).

The budget proposes five unpaid furlough days for employees and five days of closing certain departments (excluding police, fire and utilities). The total estimated savings for the 10 days is $720,000.

Those are among 27 possible cuts outlining close to $5 million in cuts and savings.

Zimmerman said the budget reflects the council's wish to protect its work force in a tough economy without raising taxes.

Last year, the council agreed to slice about 6 percent of the city's general fund, largely because the state imposed midyear cuts to highway user revenue and police protection funding.

In a summary with the new budget plan, Zimmerman wrote that residential and commercial development and business activity have "declined significantly," which has "seriously weakened" the city's utility revenues.

More financial pain looms next year, when the city expects to lose $4.4 million in expected state and county funding.

Also, observers are anticipating a drop when properties inside the city are reassessed. This year, residential values in eastern and northern parts of the county sank an average of 22 percent.

As the council discussed Tuesday how to proceed with its budget-making, Councilman Lewis C. Metzner suggested a cut not on the list: ending the city's $108,000-a-year federal lobbyist contract.

Metzner said the firm has helped the city get about $1.8 million in federal funding, but he can't support the expense while cutting $62,000 for an after-school program for children.

That sparked a sharp debate, with council members talking at and over each other.

Councilman William M. Breichner sided with Metzner, but Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood and Councilman Forrest Easton objected, noting that the council voted unanimously in January to extend the lobbying contract.

Metzner, though, said it was clear in January that the expense would be re-evaluated at budget time.

Haywood urged the council to think comprehensively, of long-range effects, instead of mining the budget for bits and pieces to cut.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II criticized one cut on the list -- eliminating prescription coverage for retirees and dependents eligible for Medicare, an expected saving of $315,050.

The Herald-Mail Articles