Aberdeen's city administration is proposing a $14.1 million operating budget for fiscal year 2015, which reflects a 16 percent decrease in spending from fiscal year 2014.
Even so, the proposed budget includes a cost of living increase for city employees of 2.5 percent, Mayor Mike Bennett said Monday.
The city is also proposing keeping the property tax rate at 68 cents per $100 of assessed value, the highest of Harford's three municipalities.
Bennett, however, said the city's tax situation could change.
Authority to levy a hotel room tax, which had eluded Aberdeen for years, was approved by the Maryland General Assembly earlier this month and is expected to benefit tourist institutions.
During Monday night's city council meeting, Bennett noted Ripken Stadium is the largest tourist attraction in Harford County. It's also been a tax drain on the city, which is still paying off bonds sold to pay for the stadium's construction.
"My goal is, if we can get this implemented so it benefits our city and other municipalities, I hope to take our property tax rate and reduce our property tax somewhat, and still be able to do all the stuff we need to do at the stadium," he said of the lodging tax.
The city's proposed FY 15 budget is $14,088,584, a decrease of $2,753,290 from fiscal year 2014.
The proposed budget shows reductions in expenses for debt service, as well as parks and recreation; other line items also are reduced. The city expects to spend $185,000 less on debt service and $289,000 less on parks and recreation. The debt service reduction reflects a $195,000 line of credit to Harford Bank that was paid off, Bennett said.
The city is proposing $2.8 million budget for the water system and $3.6 million for the sewer operation, decreases of 17 percent and 44 percent, respectively. The water and sewer budgets are balanced based on water and sewer rates, and cannot be supplemented with general operating fund money collected through taxes.
The stadium enterprise would be funded at $681,623, a decrease of about 39 percent from fiscal year 2014.
The capital budget is slated to be $1.2 million, including $455,000 in public works administration capital purchases.
A hearing on the budget is set for May 19.
Bennett said after the council meeting that revenues were "pretty flat" this year, prompting the city to make do with what it had for 2015.
"We just really had to make some decisions that we were going to cut [from departments]," he said, adding the city is not buying all the equipment it has in the past, such as trucks.
Room tax help
The council thanked Rose Mary Hatem Bonsack, a former delegate, for helping to push through the lodging tax this year in what she said was a "secret" campaign. Bonsack, who was successful in enlisting the help of Senate President Mike Miller, was given an award by the mayor for her dedication to the city.
She said she only told Councilman Bruce Garner about her mission and swore him to secrecy.
Garner said he hopes everyone knows what Bonsack did for Aberdeen.
"I watched her reach across the aisle, to talk to Democrats, Republicans," he said Monday. "I cannot say enough about her and I want our citizens to know the time, the work she put into it."
"Without her doing what she did, we would still be where we were last year," he said.
Bonsack said she was "bound and determined" to get the so-called room tax passed once and for all.
"I love the city and I intend to stay here, even though I was born and raised in Havre de Grace," she said.
Art Helton, who is running for a state Senate seat, also said he appreciated Bonsack's effort.
"It's very unfortunate that it took a delegate who has been retired for some time to go to Annapolis and work a process that we have a delegation in Annapolis [to do]," he said.