Laurel City Council approved a $34.2 million operating budget — an increase of 6.7 percent from last year’s budget -- last month but did not increase tax rates.
The budget holds the city’s property tax rate at 71 cents (per $100 of assessed property value) and the personal property tax remains at $1.69 (per $100 of assessed property value).
A $6.1 million capital improvement program budget, with a focus on spending for street and infrastructure projects, was also approved.
Mayor Craig Moe presented the balanced budget to the council and it was approved with no changes needed by a 4-1 vote, , Moe said.
“I was very happy they approved it … I think there was good discussion and [the budget process] was open to the public,” Moe said.
Council President Michael Leszcz said the budget was scrutinized for over a month before it was approved. Leszsz and fellow council members Frederick Smalls, Keith Syndor and Valerie Nicholas voted in approval of the budget. Councilman Carl DeWalt voted against it.
“We must have an approved budget by June 1 and it needs to be balanced … we can’t spend more than what we get,” Leszcz said.
DeWalt said there were “numerous reasons” as to why he voted against the budget.
“The retirees within the city of Laurel have been ignored for many years,” DeWalt said. “They haven’t been offered a cost-of-living [adjustment] close to 23 years now and I’ve been trying to bring that to light.”
All city employees will receive a 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment under the approved budget. Employees could also receive a merit pay increase, based on performance, of up to 2.5 percent.
The budget also maintains funding for the police, public works and parks and recreation departments, according to Michele Saylor, director of budget and personnel services.
Three employees were added to the public works’ refuse crew for a total of 41 employees.
Moe said funding for the additional positions was important, as the city has grown and all areas need to be covered.
The capital improvement program is funding $3.9 million for streets, curbs and gutter upgrades and other infrastructure projects. The program funds are also contributing to the demand of cyber security, with funds to enhance current security measures and implement further procedures address unforeseen needs, according to a letter Moe sent the council.
Some of the program’s monies will also contribute to the city’s fleet equipment. The program’s budget proposes $643,500 to replace and purchase new vehicles including a mowing tractor. Funds collected from speed-camera fines will be used to replace six police cars.
The city’s fiscal year begins July 1.
This story has been updated to include comment from Councilman Carl DeWalt.