Historic Poster Contest

Chris Walker, of Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School, holds up his first place winning entry in this year's Historic Poster Contest, sponsored by the Bel Air Historic Preservation Commission. Chris, who drew the Hopkins House, and other winners were honored at Monday's Bel Air town meeting. Town Administrator Chris Schler, left, and Commission Dave Carey applaud the winner. (Photo courtesy of Kathi Santora, The / May 22, 2012)

Bel Air's town employees will get a 3 percent raise in July and residents of English Country Manor should soon get their long sought traffic light at Gateway Drive and Boulton Street under the 2013 town budget that received final approval from the Board of Town Commissioners Monday.

The commissioners voted to adopt the $15,754,120 budget, which contains some spending reductions from 2012, especially in the general fund which covers most regular government expenses, including the police department.

Overall, the new budget will be $642,455, or almost 4 percent, less than 2012's total budget of $16,396,575.

The new budget will keep the same real and personal property tax rates of 50 cents and $1.16 per $100 of assessed value, respectively. Sewer service rates, which are tied to annual changes in the Consumer Price Index, will increase 3.2 percent from $5 per $1,000 gallons to $5.16.

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The raises funded for the town employees will be their first in three years, Commissioner David Carey noted.

"We have a well run town and provide services to our community," Commissioner Robert Preston said during the brief public hearing that preceded the final budget vote.

Three of the four speakers during the hearing were English Country Manor residents, who came to thank the town officials for funding $150,000 for the Gateway/Boulton traffic light.

John Meeks, the former president of the residents association who shepherded the light project through the town government, was effusive in his praise, as he reviewed the process that started with the commissioners agreeing, some reluctantly, to fund a traffic study, following by installation of a camera to regulate existing lights at Best Buy and Tollgate Road to now funding for the light at Gateway and Boulton.

"I want to express my appreciation and the community's," Meeks said.

Jerry Tuerk, who succeeded Meeks as president of the association, said most of the condo community's residents are senior citizens and the light will help ease their concerns about safety at the busy intersection they must drive through in order to leave the community.

Later, as he voted on the final budget, Mayor Eddie Hopkins praised the community's residents for their patience and cooperation.

"They worked with us cooperatively," Hopkins said, observing that funding for the project "was somewhat a long time coming."

Spending reductions

Some of the spending reduction in the budget results from the town having $138,000 less in outside grant funds and so-called special funds to spend, while the town also expects to spend $78,000 less to operate the sewer system.

In the special revenue fund, the town is providing $75,000 from its surplus funds as the start-up capital for a revolving loan fund to help small businesses in town get financing they might not otherwise be able to obtain from commercial sources.

The town's seed money will be matched by a $55,000 community development grant the state previously approved. The new fund won't start making loans until 2013, Moody, the finance director said.

The general fund reduction will be almost $1.2 million, reducing spending from $13 million to $11.8 million; however, not unlike the City of Aberdeen is doing in its budget with its Ripken Stadium debt, Bel Air is cutting $1.3 million representing the short term loan it used to buy the BB&T property on Main Street last summer, a one-time expenditure in the 2012 budget.

The BB&T debt service shows up under another line item at $57,340 for next year, up from $27,500 in the current budget.

Carey said after the meeting he considers the BB&T property "an asset" that the town will hold and take advantage of for years, first as a public parking lot and probably later as a site for new town offices.

The parking fund budget, which is also accounted separately from other operations, is projected to increase to almost $1.2 million next year from $687,000 in the current fiscal year, as the town has budgeted $647,465 for "routine repairs" to the parking garage that it owns in 33-67 percent partnership with Harford County. In 2012, the "routine repairs" line item for the parking garage was $201,000, money that was spent on new elevators.