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Cuts made, overturned as part of Hagerstown budget review

April 28, 2010|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- The Hagerstown City Council severed ties to a federal lobbyist, overturned a potential cut for the municipal band and expressed doubts about funding a homeownership program on Tuesday as it worked on the city's next budget.

It put off discussing one major item -- eliminating prescription coverage for Medicare-eligible retirees and dependents -- because of confusion over an attorney's opinion.

A city attorney told Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and the council in a letter that anyone potentially affected by the change should recuse himself from the discussion, according to council members describing the advice aloud.

Bruchey, whose mother receives benefits from the retiree program, and Councilman William E. Breichner, a retiree, prepared to leave the room -- until Councilman Lewis C. Metzner challenged the advice.

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Metzner said he didn't understand why some officials had to recuse themselves, yet everyone on the council could discuss health insurance coverage, even though some get it. Councilman Martin E. Brubaker agreed.

The council decided to table the retiree program discussion and get more of an explanation from a city attorney.

For three weeks, the council has been examining a draft budget for fiscal year 2011, which begins July 1. The mayor and council will meet again Saturday at 9 a.m. at City Hall to talk more about the budget.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman proposed a $134.9 million budget, down about 16 percent from this year's $160.1 million budget.

The budget proposal calls for the city's property tax rate to remain at 78.8 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Tax bills, though, would drop because of a new county taxation structure. The county tax rate for residents in the city and other Washington County municipalities is expected to decrease 12.5 cents per $100 of assessed value in the coming year.

The city has until May 31 to pass next year's budget.

As part of Tuesday's budget discussion, the council overturned some proposed cuts but left others intact.

As previously pledged, the council eliminated $108,000 from the budget for a federal lobbyist, which the city will no longer use.

The council agreed to restore $2,000 that would have been cut from a $20,000 line item for the Hagerstown Municipal Band.

Councilman Forrest Easton said the band should be treated as a city service, like a public swimming pool or golf course, and shouldn't be grouped with other nonprofit organizations, many of which are facing city cuts of 8 percent to 10 percent.

Bruchey and council members said they've been flooded with letters, e-mails and calls supporting the Hagerstown Home Store, which assists home buyers, lenders and renters.

The city's budget proposal would cut $50,000 for the Home Store and another $50,000 for the organization that oversees it.

Noting that about 40 percent of Home Store clients buy homes outside the city, Bruchey said he isn't convinced the program should be funded -- or at least funded solely by the city. He said he's urging people to lobby Washington County.

A few weeks after agreeing to overturn a 33 percent funding cut for Community Rescue Service, council members switched course Tuesday and said they'd consider eliminating the full amount -- all $75,000.

Metzner said the county's plan to boost CRS's funding by about $300,000 in the coming year might make city funding unnecessary.

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