Laurel mayor's budget shows increase in spending, no tax hikes

The first iteration of Laurel Mayor Craig Moe's $27.3 million budget for the 2014 fiscal year proposes a 6 percent increase over the 2013 budget, despite no changes to the city's tax rate and residential tax revenue, and a minuscule increase to the city's real estate tax revenue.

The larger budget is achieved through a revenue increase of $1.6 million, which is fueled largely by a $1.2 million budgeted increase in permit revenue. Approximately $840,000 of the permit revenue comes from building permits, including a combined $800,000 from Towne Centre Laurel, Westside Development and Anderson's Corner.

For the sixth year in a row, the city's real property tax rate of $0.71 per $100 of full cash value assessment will remain the same.

The budget was first introduced to the public this week at a Monday, May 13, City Council meeting. No member of the public spoke during the meeting's public hearing.

Portions of the increased revenue will be used to fund 5 new positions, including three for the newly formed Department of Communications. The two city employees working in Marketing and Community Outreach will be moved out from underneath the city administrator's office and into the newly formed department, which will be headed by city spokesman Pete Piringer.

The three departmental positions include a media coordinator, an administrative assistant and a program coordinator. The department will also be responsible for the city's cable station, which the city is currently in the process of acquiring from the Laurel Cable Network Foundation.

The Laurel Police Department will add an additional sworn officer and a civilian staff supervisor, which Moe said brings him closer to his staffing goal for the department.

"It has been my long-term goal to have 70 total sworn positions," Moe wrote in a memo to council members. "This addition would authorize a complement of 68 sworn positions. This is due to the growth of the city's boundaries geographically as well as the impacts of redevelopment that are coming to fruition."

The city will also change an administrative staff member's position in the Department of Information Technology from one that is part-time to one that is full-time.

In addition to funding new positions, Moe said all positions funded in the 2013 budget will continue in 2014.

Some city departments saw modest increases from the 2013 budget, the majority of which Moe said the city has little control over.

"There are some things we have control over and others we don't," Moe said. "The electrical bills, the insurance, workers' compensation, retirement costs."

Although modest by comparison, the city's election budget saw an increase from $6,100 in 2013 to $56,290 in 2014. Moe said the increase has to do with the inordinate amount of election laws passed last year, which included the approval of new ward boundaries.

"We want to make sure people know we changed the ward boundaries, so we are going to do a mail-out, which can be costly," Moe said.

The budget also includes earned step raises for employees beginning July 1, as well as a 1.5 percent market adjustment for base salaries, which will be implemented Jan. 1, 2014.

Moe was pleased that the city could continue the Mayor's Summer Jobs Program; and the Voucher Program, which allows for children from "financially challenged" families to participate in the city's youth programming.

While Moe was pleased with those two items, he was disappointed that state aid was once again lacking. According to the budget's introduction, revenue from a highway user tax is budgeted at 82 percent less than the funds received in 2009.

The budget also reported the city's fund balance at approximately $7 million, which is 26.5 percent of the total budget. While the city charter requires 10 percent of the operating budget be designated to the fund balance, Moe said he prefers to have that number somewhere between 15 to 20 percent.

"We have been able to move some money around from the undesignated reserve," Moe said. "That number can fluctuate, one minute you are right on, the next you might not have that 10 percent. You have to be careful."

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