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Carroll County Times

Westminster approves Fiscal Year 2013 budget and prepares for future projects

With the Fiscal Year 2013 budget approved, Westminster residents can look forward to various projects around the city, including the largest capital improvement project the city has ever undertaken, as well as a reduction in the property tax rate.

This year, the city will begin a $27 million upgrade to its Wastewater Treatment Plant, City Administrator Marge Wolf said. The Maryland Department of the Environment will fund 65 percent of the project, leaving Westminster to pay approximately $9,450,000 for the upgrade.

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"That's going to be huge. It's the largest amount we've ever spent on a capital project," Wolf said.

She said there is money allotted in the FY13 budget for the engineering and design work to begin the preliminary stage of the project this year. There is not set completion date, but Wolf said the upgrade is expected to take several years.

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Additional capital improvement projects budgeted for FY13 include the ongoing roads improvement project, installing and repairing handicap ramps around the city, and doing renovation work on City Hall and the Old Armory Building, according to Wolf.

The road projects are expected to cost around $1.5 million, she said, while the cost of renovations at City Hall and the Armory haven't been determined yet.

First the city will replace the porch at City Hall, and then replace the building's windows and remove the lead paint around the windows, Wolf said. The windows must be replaced at the Armory, too, before new air conditioning and heating systems can be installed.

"With old buildings, you take off something and then find out something else has to be replaced," Wolf said. "We've have to do a lot more work than we originally thought we would."

In total, the city's FY13 general fund budget is balanced at $14,909,228.

The Public Housing fund budget, which is federally funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is balanced at $2,326,102.

Revenue and expenditures for the sewer fund are estimated at $8,485,514.

Water fund revenue is estimated at $8,681,603, while expenditures are estimated to be $7,817,320.

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A portion of the water revenue, $864,283, is targeted to fund balance as reserves for future capital project requirements, according to Director of Finance Gary Ehlers.

In addition to several capital improvement projects, residents will see a 1-cent reduction in property tax rates, and no increase in water or sewer rates.

At the Mayor and Common Council meeting May 14 the council and staff members discussed the reduction in property tax rates, as Councilman Dennis Frazier questioned if there could be more of a reduction in the tax rate.

Although only the 1-cent reduction was approved for FY13, Council President Damian Halstad said he thinks debate over tax reductions will continue during budget processes in the next few years.

"I think when the budget season begins next February that's going to be an issue," Halstad said.

He said there will always be a tug-of-war between cutting taxes and putting money into a reserve to save for an emergency situation.

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Mayor Kevin Utz said he and the council hope to continue reducing taxes in years to come, but there are no guarantees.

"We're doing it prudently slow," he said. "We're not sure what the economy is going to do to us."


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