Havre de Grace's City Council Monday passed a $14.8 city million budget for 2012, more than the $14.7 million originally proposed and significantly higher than previous budgets.
The budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 includes a real property tax rate decrease of one cent, from $0.60 per $100 of assessed property value to $0.59.
The total budget is more than the $11.6 million actual fiscal year 2011 budget, as well as the $13.3 million budget for fiscal year 2010.
The city increased its efforts to get federal and state grants, and grant revenues are therefore expected to increase by more than $530,000 from anticipated fiscal 2011 awards, Mayor Wayne Dougherty wrote in an introduction to the updated version of the budget.
The grant applications for 2012 are for infrastructure improvements and will only move forward if those grants are received, the introduction says.
The council unanimously passed an amendment, introduced by Councilman Jim Miller, to move $35,000 from the public works department to the council's budget for "miscellaneous operating costs," essentially giving the council discretion on how the money is spent.
Miller said he was concerned about plans to spend the money on signboards, and other council members agreed with those concerns.
"Last week we had a public hearing here and I asked a question about a purchase and the purchase was not made, it was not even considered," Miller said. "I feel the council needs to get more involved in the spending of the city of HdG and stop just spending other people's money because we can afford to."
Councilman Fred Cullum said he agreed with the proposal as long as the money gets spent on DPW needs.
About the signboards, he said, "I think if we had to rent them, we could probably rent them a long time for $35,000… I'm sure we could pay for a couple of clocks for $35,000 and certainly for some streets that need to be paid."
However, Cullum said he does not agree with the council taking over purchasing anything because he does not think that is a legislative function.
"I don't think we want to start down that slippery slope," he said.
Councilman Randy Craig said he also had some concerns with the signboards purchase that he had discussed earlier.
"I think it's prudent to go ahead and do it," he said of the amendment, adding the city can certainly purchase signboards if the opportunity arises to buy them cheaper.
He added, though, that he is sure the council's DPW committee can come back with "a good, solid recommendation" of what to use the money for.
"As you know, there's more than one need. There's dozens and dozens of them," he said.
Councilman John Correri said he agreed with Cullum, to make sure that money is spent by DPW.
Councilman Bill Martin said he agreed, but he had no intention of "hijacking" another department's money.
Nevertheless, "there's a lot of things in the city that could also use $35,000," Martin said. "I think there's a lot of things that could be a priority over signboards."
The new budget includes boosts in funding on both revenue and spending side, but some decreases as well.
Intergovernmental revenues are expected to go up from $254,000 to $370,100
The city council's budget increased from $56,300 to $74,000, and capital projects increased from $2,020,000 to $2,140,000.
Meanwhile, however, the public safety budget went down from $4,852,400 to $4,830,800.
General fund revenues are still expected to decrease by more than $700,000, largely because of a drop in revenues from taxes and service fees.
The cost of operating the city-owned marina is expected to increase by $50,000 mostly because of anticipated increases in the cost of fuel.
The operating income for the marina is projected to be $130,000, a decrease of $5,000 from fiscal year 2011.
Craig thanked the mayor for the hard work he put into it.
"I think it's a good budget, I think it reflects the values of our city," he said. "I do appreciate the hard work that you've done, Mr. Mayor, and also the city staff."
Dougherty likewise thanked the council members for the productive sessions they have had.
"I look forward to another year with another productive budget," he said.