The Town of New Windsor's proposed general fund budget contains no new tax increases and shifts some of the costs of two town employee's salaries to the town's water and sewer budget. Those adjustments - along with others - create a Fiscal Year 2015 general fund budget that is balanced at $614,550.
But New Windsor Mayor Neal Roop said that a real property tax increase could still be on the table for some council members.
The town is facing a host of capital projects they will need to tackle in the coming years, including paying for expected stormwater management projects, town hall repairs and road repairs, among other costs.
At their meeting earlier this month, council members Ed Palsgrove, Kimberlee Schultz and Dave Hoffman said they thought it would be best to increase property taxes next year to start raising money for the projects. They noted that further property tax rate increases may be needed in the future and it would be better to start raising the tax rate incrementally starting in FY15.
Council members Ed Smith and Kevin Null said at the meeting they thought the town should hold off on raising the property tax rate. They proposed the town dip into its reserves this year to pay for certain capital projects. Town officials could come back during the Fiscal Year 2016 budget discussions with a better proposal for a tax rate increase, they argued.
Roop said the proposed budget, drafted by Town Manager Frank Schaeffer, should not be a sign that these issues have been resolved.
"It may come down to three to two," Roop said of a the final vote on the budget by the town's five council members.
The budget is set to be formally introduced at the town's work session April 21 and will be adopted at the town's May 19 work session, according to the town's budget schedule.
Previously, worksheets distributed by Schaeffer to council members showed a shortfall in revenues versus expenses for FY15 and in years beyond that.
However, the shortfall expected for next fiscal year was mostly eliminated by Schaeffer shifting portions of his salary and the salary of Town Clerk and Treasurer Donna Alban to the enterprise fund, which is expected to be balanced at $874,100 this year and pays for town water and sewer services.
Roop proposed shifting the salaries at the last council meeting, arguing that much of the work Schaeffer and Alban do for the town is related to the town's water and sewer services, making the move justifiable.
Because the general fund budget was balanced largely through the shift in salaries of the two officials, the discussion has centered on the capital costs the town is expected to have to pay in the coming years.
At their meeting earlier this month, the council members discussed what a real property tax rate increase of nearly 10 cents per $100 of assessed value would generate for the town, and what some of that funding could be used for.
Under that proposal, a homeowner with a property worth $200,000 would pay $620 per year rather than $423 per year under the current rate.
It is not clear whether council members want to raise the property tax rate to that level at this point, however.
The current property tax rate is 21.15 cents per $100 of assessed value, which was increased slightly for this fiscal year by council members.
Prior to that, the council last raised the rate in Fiscal Year 2008 from 16 cents per $100 of assessed value to 20 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Residents are also paying higher water and sewer rates each year, largely to pay for an outstanding loan on the town's wastewater treatment plant that became operational in April 2011. The $4.5 million plant was mandated by the Maryland Department of the Environment as a means to reduce excess nutrients from making their way into local waters.
Although it still rises each year, the quarterly sewer base rate was decreased by $51 - from $131 to $80 - after the town received a $2 million state grant to pay for the costs of a loan for the wastewater treatment plant in 2012.
In FY15, the base water rate will rise to $115 per quarter with a user rate of $3.24 per 1,000 gallons.
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The base sewer rate will rise to $92 quarterly with $6.62 charged per 1,000 gallons.