As Aberdeen prepares FY14 budget, fiscal issues loom beyond city's control

Aberdeen City Manager Doug Miller, who is in the early stages of putting together the city's budget for the 2014 fiscal year, told the mayor and city council members last week that he expects most of city's revenue sources to be stable.

He did, however, have a few words of caution.

"The big gorilla in the room will be [local] income tax," he said during a city council work session Feb. 4.

Miller focused on city residents who are federal employees at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

They and other federal workers could face unpaid furloughs of up to 30 days if President Barack Obama and Congress cannot put together either a temporary or permanent spending package by March 1.

If they do not reach an agreement by that date, furloughs and other automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, will take effect, Miller explained.

"If our federal employees see a reduction in their take-home [pay], we're going to be affected as well," Miller said.

He added: "If that federal employee lives in our corporate limits it is a one-12th reduction in their take home."

Sewer rates, stormwater issues

Miller also said city leaders need to "seriously discuss" increasing sewer rates for next year to help cover the increased personnel and energy expenses of running Aberdeen's wastewater treatment plant.

Many of those costs are attributed to upgrades the city made to the plant under federal and state mandates to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous discharges into the Chesapeake Bay, a process called biological nutrient removal, or BNR.

The city manager also said the city will be "mandated" to begin collecting a stormwater fee from property owners during FY 2014, which begins July 1, "to start mitigating some of the stormwater deficiencies that are in the city."

Harford County residents who live outside municipal limits will have to pay a state-mandated stormwater fee beginning July 1. The county held a public information session about its fee on Jan. 29, during which an aide to Harford County Executive David Craig said individual homeowners could pay as much as $400 a year.

Local governments are being required to collect the fee to fund stormwater management projects to keep pollutants from being carried to the Chesapeake Bay via rainwater runoff. Although the county and its three municipal governments are subject to different permit requirements, they will all be required to fund mitigation projects at their cost.

Mayor Mike Bennett stressed the city is not responsible for imposing the stormwater fee.

"Any time that we have to collect an imposed fee that we have no control over, it needs to be a bright fluorescent red [message]," Bennett said. "We have no say in it, it's something that's imposed. If you want to yell at somebody, go to the people that imposed it on us and yell at them."

Street work

Miller also discussed Aberdeen's $3 million to $3.5 million worth of street repaving that needed to be taken care of "yesterday."

The recent winter weather has not improved street conditions, either.

"With all this salt we're putting down, that's not helping matters at all," the city manager said.

State-shared revenue helps support municipal road repairs; Miller said the city could also refinance part of its debt to find funding.

Miller said he is working on revenue projections and expects to give the council members a more detailed briefing on the budget during their March work session.

He expects a draft budget will be ready by April 15, which would then be presented to the public in late April. The budget could be adopted by late May.

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