Road paving, sidewalk repairs are priority in Bel Air's proposed budget

A handful of streets in Bel Air will be repaved in the next fiscal year, if funding for them is approved as the town commissioners prepare the budget.

At their meeting Monday night, the commissioners accepted the town administrator's proposed budget, which commissioners will review, change and, eventually, adopt as the FY2018 budget.

The proposed budget — at $12,947,766 — is 1.3 percent less ($174,342) than what the commissioners approved for the current fiscal year, $13,122,108. The town's real property tax rate will remain the same at $.50 per $100 of assessed value.

The budget includes merit step increases for town employees, averaging 2.8 percent, and a 1 percent cost-of-living increase.

The two biggest expense areas in the general fund budget are public safety at 30 percent and public works at 25.3 percent.

Among the capital projects that will be completed if the proposed budget is approved, is the paving of eight streets: Pennsylvania Avenue from Hickory Avenue to Main Street; Choice Street from Broadway to the end; Maitland Avenue between Churchville Road and Fulford Avenue; Williams Street from Gordon to Ellendale streets; Broadway between Williams and Rock Spring Avenue; Cressy Park Way; Calvin Place in Major's Choice; and Hunter Drive from Linwood Avenue to Shamrock Road in Homestead Village.

The sidewalk between the Hickory Avenue parking lot and Pennsylvania Avenue will be replaced in the next fiscal year, if the budget is approved, according to Public Works Director Steve Kline.

The town used to do three to four sidewalk replacements each year, he said, which cost about $40,000.

Now, the town is trying to maintain the existing sidewalks and has hired a contractor who shaves down the raised edges, Kline said.

"When that happens, and it happens so often, with tree roots, other things, it causes tripping hazards," he said.

Shaving down the edges, he said, "saves us so much money and we're able to do so much more."

In some cases, however, the sidewalks have moved too much and they couldn't be cut, so those sections were replaced, Kline said.

In this year's budget, the focus was on fixing the main downtown area — Main Street, Hickory Avenue, "where most of the pedestrian traffic is in downtown," Kline said.

In the next fiscal year, the town has budgeted about $41,000 to keep making those fixes, Kline said, and will focus on Williams Street to Archer, Linwood Avenue, Major's Choice Drive and Shamrock Road.

Other curb and gutter replacements will be worked into some of those projects, Kline said.

Other expenses

The town's debt service is decreasing in the next fiscal year by $250,760 to $213,072. Most of that is principal and interest payments on $173,396 vehicle and equipment purchases made beteween fiscal years 2012 and 2015 and fiscal year 2018.

The other large portion of the debt service will be $38,147 paid to Johnson Controls Inc., which is making several energy-efficient improvements throughout the town.

Equipment purchases next fiscal year include three replacement vehicles for the police department ($94,736), a pickup truck for public works ($48,000 with $3,500 expected from the sale of the existing truck at auction), a dump truck ($157,000 with $70,000 expected from sale of the existing truck at auction) and a refuse truck ($165,000 with $30,000 expected from sale of the existing truck at auction).

The town also has budgeted several allocations to community groups, including Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company ($156,460), Parks and Recreation Committee ($86,700), Appearance and Beautification Committee ($39,300), Bel Air Alliance ($18,500), Independence Day Committee ($15,200), Cultural Arts Committe ($8,350) and Boys and Girls Club ($8,000).

On the revenue side, the largest portion of the town's income comes from property taxes (61.2 percent), estimated to be $7,916,936 in FY18. The town is projected to receive $2,005,884 in state shared taxes (15.5 percent of the town's revenues).

Contracts approved

Commissioners unanimously approved a contract with Dell Inc. for $9,332 to replace some of the town's computer equipment.

Under the contract, which is piggybacked on a national contract, the town will buy a new server.

The commissioners also approved a contract with Eastern Salt Co. Inc for one year to buy bulk road salt for $64.35 per ton to use on the town's 41 miles of roads, alleys and parking lots. This contract is piggybacking on the county's.

Kline said the town typically uses 40 to 60 tons per winter storm.

The commissioners also approved moving forward with tax-exempt financing to pay for sanitary sewer rehabilitation projects that are expected to cost about $400,000.

The financing, at a rate of 2.58 percent, will be through PNC Bank, despite BBT's rate coming in a little lower, at 2.51 percent, according to finance Director Lisa Moody.

Several other factors, including lack of a repayment penalty, went into the decision to go with PNC, she said.

The first payment, of $22,819, will be due in FY2018. The town budgeted for a rate of 3 percent, so it won't be spending as much as it had anticipated, Moody said.

The approval Monday allows the town administrator to sign a term sheet; the charter requires a resolution to authorize the sale of bonds, which will be presented to the commissioners at an upcoming meeting, likely May 15, Moody said.

Praising volunteers

Mayor Susan Burdette and Commissioner Philip Einhorn, who attended Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company's awards banquet Saturday, praised members of the organization, especially those who live in town limits.

Einhorn said he was amazed at the number of calls the company answered in 2016 — 5,211 fire calls (six per day) and 7,309 medical calls (20 per day).

"These are volunteers doing that work for our citizens," he said.

He commended the work of Edward Hopkins and Shirley McLean, both town residents.

Hopkins, a former Bel Air fire chief and town commissioner, has a full-time job as head of the Department of Emergency Services for Harford County, Einhorn said, and answered 818 fire calls in 2016.

"I find that absolutely amazing he could do that," Einhorn said.

McLean was honored for 60 years of volunteering with the Bel Air company.

"We just have some amazing people in this town," he said.

Burdette also noted the accomplishments of Mark Ensor, the Unsung Hero for 2016, and Steve Cox, who was honored for 45 years of volunteering with the company.

"I'm proud and honored to have them in our town," Burdette said.

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