The Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners unanimously gave final approval Tuesday to the town's $15,967,773 budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Total spending by the town will increase by less than $93,000, half of a percent, in the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The budget consists of four main components: General Fund, which is set at $12,581,083, up $174,584 , or 1.4 percent, from $12,406,499; Sewer Fund, which is set at $2,355,339, up $76,836 from $2,278,503; Parking Fund, which is set at $542,045, up $61,693 from $480,352; and Special Revenue Fund, consisting of grants and special projects, which is set at $489,306, down $220,245 from $709,551.
The town's real property tax rate of 50 cents per $100 of assessed value and personal property tax rate of $1.16 per $100 of assessed value will not change in the new budget; however, the basic sewer service rate will increase by 1.5 percent tied to the December 2013 Consumer Price Index.
The new quarterly sewer service rate for a typical residential customer will be $5.57 per 1,000 gallons of water usage, up from $5.49.
Bel Air's sewage disposal costs are dependent on Harford County, which treats the town's sewage. Water service in Bel Air is provided by the private Maryland American Water Company, which collects its charges directly from customers.The water company's rates are regulated by the Maryland Public Service Commission.
Most of the increase in the general fund budget, which encompasses the bulk of town operations including the police and public works departments, is the result of a plan to give all employees and department heads merit step raises.
Town officials said previously the merit step raises are the first in five years for employees and will average about 3.6 percent, while the department heads will receive raises for the first time in six years. The amount of the raise an individual receives will be in a range of 1 to 5 percent, depending on seniority.
An increase in spending for employee benefits, from $2.1 million to a projected $2.3 million, comes with the salary increases.
According to budget documents, the town has 97 positions in all departments, with five vacancies.
Town officials also plan to spend $634,398 on total debt service in the next fiscal year, compared to the $440,741 budgeted for this fiscal year, an increase of close to $200,000.
At a public hearing on the general fund budget in late April, Town Administrator James Fielder Jr. noted the debt service increase is driven by the early payoff of the town's second installment of its share of the expanded auditorium at Bel Air High School.
Town officials plan to spend $369,487 to pay off the auditorium debt, compared to $175,260 during this fiscal year.
Other major debt service payments include vehicle and equipment purchases made between the 2008 and 2015 fiscal years, and the town's purchase of the former BB&T Bank property on Main Street, which was redeveloped for a public parking lot.
Modest revenue gains
More than half the general fund budget is funded by real estate taxes, which are estimated at $6,712,675 for 2015, a modest $67,000 increase.
The budget projects the town's share of local income taxes at $1,304,000, an increase of about $78,000, and its annual tax rebate from Harford County at $1,133,357. The rebate in theory consists of county property taxes collected from town residents that in turn cover such town-provided services as planning and zoning and parks operations.
Other general fund revenue such as public utilities taxes, corporations taxes, state highway user taxes and amusement taxes are expected to show only small gains.
The Public Works Department budget which covers streets, sidewalks and stormwater collection and refuse collection is set at $3,284,616, an increase of $186,000.
The Police Department budget is set at $3,304,384, a slight decrease that Chief Leo Matrangola said previously is mainly the result of retirements of some senior officers. He also had noted the department is still buying new technology, giving merit raises and continuing to replace units in its fleet.
The general government administration budget, which includes most other town operations such as administration, planning, finance and economic development, is set at $2,341,210, about $330,000 lower than in 2014.
Some of the reduction is the result of lower salaries for employees who replaced 2014 retirees. In addition, the town spent $200,000 in 2014 to cover its share of a multi-jurisdictional study in progress on the Routes 1 and 24 intersection.
Fielder also pointed out Monday that health insurance premiums for employees aren't increasing as much as in past years because "our workforce has been healthy."
Highlights of the budgets of the other town funds include:
The town's payment to Harford County for transporting and treating its sewage is estimated at $1,428,432, while routine operation of the sewage collection system inside the town is budgeted at $292,026. The Sewer Fund will also reimburse the general fund $260,000 to cover a pro rated share of sewer fund salaries, benefits and overhead.
The Parking Fund has three components: $170,763 for operation, maintenance and repair of the municipal parking garage, which is 67 percent owned by the county and 33 percent owned by the town; $221,371 for operation of surface parking lots and the street meter system; and 149,911 for depreciation on capital expenditures and the 20 percent collection fee the town pays a private company to process parking tickets.
According to the parking fund budget, the town expects to collect $168,400 from street parking meters, parking garage vouchers and smartcards; $117,100 from parking fines and $77,760 from lease fees at various town lots and the parking garage.
Most of the money in the Special Revenue Fund consists of a continuing federal community development block grant of $109,006 and continuing state community legacy grant of $325,000, all of which is being used for the reconstruction of the Bel Air Reckord Armory garages into a small marketplace.