The Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners reviewed a general fund budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year on Monday that contains the first merit increases for town employees in several years.
The proposed budget is 1.4 percent higher than the current general fund, and yet it does not come with any tax increases.
The commissioners unanimously voted for the tentative general fund budget during their regular meeting, and they will hold similar votes in the coming weeks on other parts of the budget, such as the parking and sewer enterprise funds.
A public hearing on the proposed general fund, which includes employee salary increases, was also held during Monday's meeting, but no residents made any comments. The commissioners are scheduled to adopt the full budget in late May.
The proposed $12.5 million general fund makes up 79 percent of the town's $15.9 million FY 2015 budget, Town Administrator James Fielder Jr. told the commissioners. The fund covers major town government expenses, such as the police department, public works, operations and maintenance of public facilities, employee salaries and benefits, debt service and capital projects.
The general fund for FY2015 is $174,584 higher than the FY2014 general fund of $12.4 million.
Additional expenses include the first merit salary step increase for employees in five years, an average increase of 3.6 percent. Fielder noted the merit increase will be the first in six years for department heads.
"The ranges within that are from 1 to 5 percent, depending on the seniority of the individual," Fielder explained.
An increase in spending for employee benefits, from $2.1 million to a projected $2.3 million, comes with the salary increases.
Town officials also plan to spend $634,398 on total debt service in the next fiscal year, compared to the $440,741 budgeted for the current year, an increase of close to $200,000.
Fielder noted the increase is driven by the early payoff of the town's second installment on debt it incurred for 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 the current 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.
The town's property tax rates, 50 cents for every $100 of assessed value for real property and $1.16 for every $100 of personal property, are not expected to increase in FY 2015, Finance Director Lisa Moody said.
Moody said property tax revenue, along with state-shared revenue from taxes such as income tax, make up the "lion's share," or about 75 percent of general fund revenue.
Moody noted state shared revenue is expected to increase, and FY 2015 "will be the first year of the triennial reassessment phase for real property."
Root removal contract
The town commissioners also unanimously approved a $31,999 contract with Duke's Root Control Inc. of Syracuse, N.Y., to remove tree roots from town sewer lines.
"Tree root intrusions in sewer mains can often cause sewer backups as well as damage to the mains themselves," Public Works Director Randy Robertson explained.
Workers with Duke's, which has been hired by the town in previous years, will use a foam material to kill the tree roots. Robertson said that is more effective than cutting the roots, since they typically grow back "fairly quickly over time" once they are cut.
Duke's uses an "herbicidal foam" to kill the roots, according to the company's website.
The Homestead neighborhood is scheduled for the treatment this year. Robertson said crews treat sewer lines in neighborhoods that are prone to the root incursions on a rotating basis every three years.
He said 18,000 linear feet of 8-inch sewer main will be treated, along with about 2,300 linear feet of 10-inch main and about 10 lateral lines.
Fielder said after the meeting that the roots typically make their way through clay sewer mains.
Student, employee honored
The commissioners bestowed a Student Achievement Award on April Moscati, a student at The John Carroll School.
April's leadership roles as president of the school's Friend to Friend Club, captain of the junior varsity volleyball team and as a mentor to an "international student" were noted in a proclamation read by Mayor Robert Reier, plus her volunteer work in and outside of school and her part-time job with the Wildlife Adventures outreach group, designed to teach children about wildlife.
"April Moscati is a true humanitarian," according to the proclamation. "Honest and genuine, she possesses the gifts of poise, humility and the ability to nurture."
Town employee Angela Robertson was also recognized Monday for her work as a grants and economic development coordinator with the Economic Development Department.
Reier, who read from prepared remarks, noted Robertson's successful management of the town's arts and entertainment district, which includes managing and contributing articles to the arts and entertainment website, plus working with local "arts communities."
Robertson has also secured several grants for various town projects, and assisted the Cultural Arts Commission with its Bel Air High School Bobcat sculpture and film festival projects.
"Angela is known for taking on challenging tasks in a cheerful and dedicated manner," Reier said.