Council takes step toward cost-cutting budget

Debate about cuts to housing program dominates public hearing

May 11, 2010|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN --The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday preliminarily approved a budget and property tax rate that cuts spending and tax bills in the coming fiscal year.

Debate about cuts to a nonprofit housing program dominated a public hearing.

The city's initial proposed budget for fiscal year 2011 eliminated all $100,000 requested for the Hagerstown Home Store and its parent organization, Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership (HNDP).

The council later restored half of the $100,000, but HNDP representatives protested that money for a fair housing program was removed from a separate fund.

The council unanimously agreed to introduce a $134.8 million spending plan for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. Total spending next year would be about 16 percent less than it is this year.


Despite declining revenues, the council decided to keep the property tax rate unchanged at 78.8 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Still, city residents' overall property taxes would decline about 6.8 percent because Washington County plans to lower its rate for people living in municipalities by 12.5 cents.

The council is scheduled to formally approve the budget May 25.

As HNDP representatives and other supporters lobbied for the city to overturn funding cuts, council members didn't budge.

HNDP's website says it educates home buyers and offers housing counseling that's certified by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD).

Sharon Disque, HNDP's executive director, told Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and the council that homeownership is a top city priority, so it should help HNDP work toward that goal.

She questioned why the city cut all of HNDP's funding for a fair housing program, but not money for other nonprofit organizations in a HUD Community Development Block Grant.

But Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said the city has nearly impossible choices: Giving more money to HNDP requires taking it from the Holly Place senior citizen group home, Community Free Clinic or other organizations that need it.

During an afternoon work session, before the evening public hearing, council members reviewed a flier urging people to lobby for more HNDP funding.

Larry Bayer, the city's community development director, gave officials a copy of the flier and a city response to its claims.

Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood criticized the flier as misleading and driven by "hysteria."

At the work session, city officials discussed having the city take over fair housing work done by HNDP.

Disque said during the evening meeting that it would make no sense for the city to start its own counseling program, which requires extensive training.

Bayer clarified that city staff would not do counseling.

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