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Bel Air plans to make business loan to cleaners for boiler replacement

Town commissioners continue review of next year's budget; website redesign coming

BY ALLAN VOUGHT, avought@theaegis.com

2:50 PM EDT, April 11, 2013

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The Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners is poised to approve another low interest loan to a private business in town.

The loan, which will be the second under the town's fledgling revolving credit program, will be going to an existing business this time, not a startup.

The loan to AKB Inc., which owns Kroh's Cleaners on Pennsylvania Avenue, was discussed briefly at Tuesday afternoon's town work session and is expected to be voted on by the Board of Town Commissioners at this Monday night's town meeting.

Town Administrator Chris Schlehr said the borrower wants to use the money to replace a large boiler that makes steam needed for the dry cleaning process, as well as to heat the building.

Schlehr and Town Finance Director Lisa Moody said the loan will be for $20,000 for a term of five years at an interest rate of 2.5 percent.

In January, the Town Board agreed to lend $40,000 to an Aberdeen woman who plans to open a cookie bakery in a vacant building on South Main Street near the courthouse.

That loan is for a 10-year term at a rate between 2 and 2.5 percent and is being drawn down in $5,000 increments as the borrower makes improvements and installs equipment. Schlehr said work is continuing on the business, All About Cookies, but he did know when it will open.

The town set up the loan fund last year using $75,000 in town funds and $50,000 from a state Community Legacy Grant. Interest earned on the loans is supposed to go into the fund along with the repaid principal to make future loans.

Bill printing and mailing

Also on the agenda for Monday's town meeting is approval of a three-year contract with financial software company NDS to print and mail the town's sewer bills and statements and real estate tax bills.

Moody said the arrangement will end the town's labor intensive practice of hand-stuffing and mailing the bills by hand.

The cost will run about $12,800 a year for the sewer bills and about $2,700 a year for the real estate bills; however, the town will experience some savings in employee and postage expenses, Moody explained. The contract is non-bid, she said, because the company already handles the town's financial software and this will amount to an add-on.

During a later discussion Tuesday of her own budget for next year, Moody said the town eventually hopes to move to paperless online billing and payment for various town services, including sewer fees and real estate taxes.

Budget updates

The town commissioners will hold a public hearing at the start of Monday's meeting on the town administrator's proposed budget and Resolution 999-13 to adopt it as their tentative budget for the 2014 fiscal year beginning July 1. Adoption of the final budget for 2014 won't come until next month, however, Moody said Thursday.

Monday's town meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall.

The commissioners began holding work sessions to go over the budget on April 4 and spent part of Tuesday's work session reviewing the budgets of the finance and human resources departments.

They also heard a presentation from the Bel Air Recreation Committee President John Resta, who talked about the many program the committee runs for people of all ages in the 21014 and 21015 ZIP codes.

Resta said about 13,000 are registered in the programs, evenly divided between men and women, with girls soccer and boys lacrosse the most popular by far, followed by girls lacrosse and baseball.

He said the committee, the oldest and largest by participation in the county, has about 3,200 volunteers and hopes to add more adult programs. One existing adult program that has gained some measure of popularity is cricket, he said.

Although the committee receives an annual stipend of $84,200 from the town, Resta said most of the committee's programs are funded through donations and fees, the latter which he said the committee tries to keep as low as possible to encourage wider participation.

When discussing her budget, Moody said a redesign for the town's website is likely coming, which made several of the town commissioners happy. The current website is difficult to negotiate for information, they said.

Moody said the town is talking with an out-of-state contractor that has designed websites for several Maryland municipalities.

Also budgeted for next fiscal year is $3,514 to conduct the biennial town election.

Additional work sessions on the budget will be held on April 23 and 30, both at 4:30 p.m.

Closed session

The commissioners and staff held a 10-minute closed session Tuesday between their regular work session and the budget review.

The reason stated for closing the session was to discuss "pending or potential litigation."