Havre de Grace passes $14.8 million budget

Calling it a milestone in decreased spending, Havre de Grace's city council members approved the proposed $14.8 million budget for fiscal year that begins July 1 on Monday.

The budget is balanced based on property tax rate that has been reduced by 2 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Councilman Fred Cullum noted the total spending is $500,000 less than last year's budget.

"I don't think there's too many government agencies that can say that other than the city of Havre de Grace," Cullum said.

George DeHority, city finance director, said the cuts were made from a combination of small reductions, not one big reduction.

Cullum also pointed out that Havre de Grace's property tax rate will be 56 cents per $100 of assessed value, while Aberdeen's is 62 cents.

Havre de Grace's property tax rate is a reduction by 2 cents off last year's rate of 58 cents per $100 of assessed value.

"That's a tremendous amount of difference," he said, thanking the city staff for their hard work and calling the result of reducing the tax rate "fantastic."

Councilman Dave Glenn thanked the staff for educating him on the budget and responding to all his questions, while Councilman Bill Martin said it has been the result of frugal spending decisions by the city, such as buying used trucks and doing architectural work in-house instead of getting contractors.

"Every chance we get, the city staff cuts corners," Martin said. "I think we're doing it right in Havre de Grace. I'm very proud of our city, very proud of our staff."

He said the city is taking care of its obligations to employees and he hopes the council can do the same next year.

Council president Randy Craig added: "It is worth noting again how frugal our city staff is here."

He said he is proud to be part of a team that is serious about how it spends other people's money, in reference to taxpayers.

"It's incumbent upon us to treat that money with the utmost respect," Craig said.

About the budget, he said: "I think it's a good reflection of a wide range of priorities for council that the council and citizens would like to see us moving forward on."

Mayor Wayne Dougherty said he was confident the staff could make the budget even smaller this year, even though he got "looks" from people saying, "Mayor, it's not attainable."

"Each one of you pulled together, you came together, you worked together," he said.

Also, he said: "Out of the years I served this city, I can truthfully say that council has been very active in this budget process and that is what makes it a lot easier this evening."

Although just one person came out to a recent budget work session, Dougherty said he has gotten "quite a bit" of citizen input by way of e-mail.

"This is a budget that I can truthfully say was put together by the people that live in Havre de Grace, by the administration that listen to the people who live in Havre de Grace," he said.

Hatem Bridge, zoning

The council also unanimously approved a resolution to allow the Maryland Transportation Authority to make aesthetic enhancements to the Hatem Bridge overpass at Route 155, namely, paint it.

On Wednesday, the city's planning and zoning department will make its first presentation on proposed zoning changes, at 6 p.m. at the Havre de Grace Community Center.

Cullum encouraged everyone to attend.

"I think the most important thing the council does is zoning because that affects people's property values, affects people's property rights," he said.

Council members also sent their regards to Councilman John Correri's family. His sister, Regina, recently died and Correri was not at Monday's meeting.

One resident, Paul Bellezza of Highland Township, Pa., asked the council to consider providing more sailing opportunities at the waterfront, including possibly using the recently-purchased property at 701 Concord St. for a non-profit sailing center.

Bellezza said he has been coming to Havre de Grace for 30 years and has been a longtime sailor, as has his daughter.

"The window of opportunity is here for Havre de Grace," he said about providing a community-wide place to sail.

Dougherty explained that the new Concord Street property must remain open space, but he was very interested in Bellezza's ideas about sailing opportunities.

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