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Cuts considered as Hagerstown examines budget

Proposed budget would be 16 percent leaner than this year's

April 14, 2010|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Federal lobbying became a casualty Tuesday as the Hagerstown City Council dug into a proposed 2010-2011 budget.

A majority of the council agreed to end a contract with a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm, an effort that cost $108,000 a year but yielded much more in federal funding.

Tuesday's discussion also centered on whether to fund community causes and the pros and cons of a change in prescription drug coverage primarily for retirees older than 65.

The work session was the first of several planned to fine tune a $134.9 million budget City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman proposed for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

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The overall proposed budget is about 16 percent leaner than this year's and keeps the property-tax rate at the same level.

The council has until May 31 to pass a fiscal year 2011 budget.

Some of the 27 proposed changes and cuts in the proposed budget (with projected savings) are:

o Imposing 10 furlough days or a combination of 10 furlough days and department shutdown days ($720,000)

o Reducing overtime ($156,350)

o Eliminating funding for a Collaborative Supervision and Focused Enforcement (CSAFE) after-school program ($62,000)

o Cutting funding for the Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership and Home Store, a homebuyer education and counseling program ($100,000).

City Finance Director Alfred E. Martin said the budget proposal includes no new general-fund bond proposals for the coming year. There's also no money for replacing vehicles, but there's a $100,000 contingency fund.

"This is a get-by, get-through year," Councilman Martin E. Brubaker said.

The proposed budget cuts money for community causes and groups 25 percent from their current levels.

One of the more significant changes would be for Community Rescue Service, for which city funding would drop from $75,000 to $50,000.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said he opposes the cut and would rather see the city take money from the Character Counts! program or from the narcotics task force, which receives money from the county.

Council members talked about whether to continue funding certain groups and whether the city needs a better, more uniform approach.

"The city is at a point that we can no longer be the bank for all of these organizations," Councilman Forrest Easton said.

Metzner said some groups probably get city money year after year because of "inertia."

Council members agreed to fully fund CRS and the Hagerstown Municipal Band, which was proposed to get 10 percent less than the $20,000 it received this year.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II was the most outspoken against a plan to eliminate a prescription drug coverage plan for retirees older than 65, which would save an estimated $315,050.

Donna Frazier, the city's director of human resources, wrote in a memo that retirees now pay $83 a month as their share of the premium cost for a Medicare supplement.

Eliminating the prescription portion of the plan would save retirees about $1,000 a year and give them more flexibility in their coverage, the memo says.

But Bruchey said the city has promised all of its retirees prescription coverage and he's worried some could be hurt by the change.

Four of the five council members agreed to cut the city's ties to The Ferguson Group, a firm it hired about two years ago.

The firm helped the city secure about $1.8 million in federal funding and organized the city's lobbying effort for the coming year.

Metzner said the firm did well and taught city officials the ways of Capitol Hill, but the city can't afford to continue the contract.

Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood, the lone council member in favor of keeping the contract, said the city needs to at least take more initiative to lobby on its own in the future.

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