Handful of Hagerstown residents comment on proposed 2012 fiscal budget

Comments focused on funding for nonprofit organizations and proposed refuse fee hike

May 03, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER |

Only a handful of citizens had anything to say Tuesday night about Hagerstown's proposed fiscal 2012 budget.

Only five residents stood to speak on the proposed $106.5 million total spending plan, $36.36 million of which are general fund expenditures.

Comments offered in the hearing focused on funding for nonprofit organizations and a proposed increase in the refuse fee.

Rebecca Massie Lane, director of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, thanked the council for continuing its funding of the museum in the proposed budget and for its proposal to pave the parking lot at City Park.

"We appreciate the operating fund support very much, in addition to the capital fund project," she said.

Ron Lytle, who operates the Contemporary School for the Arts and Gallery, said he was pleased and displeased with his organization's funding.

"I'm very well pleased that the council has gave (sic) us a line item, but I'm very displeased that you didn't consider putting us in your budget to where we can get some of this community block-grant funding," he said.

Janet Bartels of Mulberry Street asked the council to consider restoring funding to CSAFE, an after-school program, saying that previous cuts have "ended" this year's program early.

"I just request that you put a little back," she said.

Gordon Bartels of Mulberry Street addressed a proposed refuse fee increase, saying that if it was intended to fill a gap in the general fund budget, it was tantamount to a tax.  

"It's a tax increase, it's not a fee increase," he said. "This is a regressive tax, hitting those less able to pay harder than those more able to pay."

Bartels said it was also his understanding that large apartment complexes in Hagerstown are not part of the city's refuse program, therefore residents of those complexes would be exempt from shouldering the cost to close the funding gap.

City officials have proposed increasing the refuse fee from $37.50 per quarter to $50 per quarter.  City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said previously that the fee was not intended to fund enhancements to city refuse service, but rather to help fill the general fund budget shortfall.

"I would urge the mayor and council to remove this fee increase and increase taxes the necessary amount to balance the budget," Bartels said. "Don't play bait and switch now only to find out that when you really need to increase this fee to pay for the needed enhancements in the refuse and recycling program, then residents will object because you just raised the fees this year."

Former Councilwoman Penny Nigh echoed Bartels' sentiment.

"We might as well go ahead and do what we have to do, and that would be increasing those taxes, as much as it is hard to swallow," Nigh said. "I don't know how you are going to be able do it (balance the budget) next year without increasing taxes and to the extreme, and that is what really concerns me, too."

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