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No property tax hike in Hagerstown's budget plan

Spending plan balances $36.6 million of expenditures with $36.7 million in revenues

April 10, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

A property tax increase will not be needed to balance Hagerstown’s budget in the next fiscal year.

City officials Tuesday night presented the Hagerstown City Council with a proposed 2012-13 general fund budget that holds the line on taxes without cutting positions or services.

The tax rate remains at 78.8 cents per $100 of assessed property value, which is actually 1 cent lower than the 79.8-cent rate that was established in 2004-05, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman told to the five-member council.

The spending plan balances $36.6 million of expenditures with $36.7 million in revenues, and does not provide cost-of-living or step increases for 466 city employees.

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This would mark the fourth consecutive year city workers have not received cost-of-living raises and their third year without step increases, Zimmerman said.

“(No raises or step increases) are part of our approach to offsetting that loss of revenue, containing our expenditures and living within our means,” he said. “We want to thank our employees who have helped us achieve that goal of balancing the budget.”

Revenues are up 2.1 percent from the current year’s budget — a sign that the economy and city finances are beginning to stabilize after two years of reductions stemming from lower property tax income and drops in county and state funding.

“We’ve now shifted to a more stable position, with some very, very modest growth,” Zimmerman said.
Property taxes make up about $24.8 million of the city’s general fund revenues.

The proposal also includes a 200-percent revenue jump — $203,000 to $730,000 — due to the installation of the new speed-monitoring cameras that will be placed in school zones around the city.

On the expense side, employee wages and benefits will cost about $24.2 million, a 1.5 percent increase from the current year. Overall expenditures are up 2.2 percent compared to 2011-12.

Debt service will decrease by an estimated 20 percent as past bonds get paid off, but capital improvement funds will soak up a portion of those funds to purchase new vehicles and equipment for various city departments.

To allow for potential city funding toward a new multiuse sports and events center, $2.2 million in bond funding is worked into the proposed spending plan, with an additional $2.1 million more added in 2013-14.

Looking into the future, Zimmerman said the city hopes to restore 39 unfunded positions by 2014-15, a potential move that Councilman Forrest W. Easton, who wants to cut taxes, said disappoints him.

“It’s taken us three years to cut the 56 positions, and it’s proposed we refill them when we get more money,” he said. “... When 85 percent of your budget is made up of salaries and benefits, you have to look at eliminating, consolidating and developing new ways to do business.”

Zimmerman’s future projections show the city being able to support four years of 2.5-percent cost-of-living raises, starting in 2013-14. Step increases would be brought back over the final two years of that span.

A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled on May 8, with a tentative approval date of May 22.
The 439-page budget can be found on Hagerstown’s website at www.hagerstownmd.org.

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