Proposed Westminster budget contains no changes to tax rates, public hearings upcoming

The Westminster Council heard a proposed budget that includes no changes to real or personal property tax rates for the city of Westminster in fiscal year 2020 during the most recent meeting of the Mayor and Common Council.

“Budgeting is not just a series of numbers. The budget that you end up adopting is really a reflection of your service priorities for the community, and from my perspective, it’s the most important action that an elected body takes every year," City Administrator Barbara Matthews said Monday night before making a presentation on the proposed budget.


The council will have time to ask questions and request changes before they approve the budget in May. Westminster residents are also invited to make comments on the budget before it is approved. The Mayor and Common Council will hold a special meeting April 24 for the first of two public hearings on the budget as well as the second budget work session. The second public hearing will be held May 13, the day the council is scheduled to adopt a budget ordinance.

Holding a seven-year pattern, the preview of the potential budget budget contains no changes to real or personal property tax rates. City staff expect the property tax rate to remain at 56 cents per $100 of assessed value for homeowners.

Residents may still see changes in the amount they actually pay. Real-property was assessed in FY18, and any increase in real property values is phased in over three years. The FY20 budget takes into account the second year of that phase-in period.

Real property tax makes up 47 percent of the city’s revenue for the general fund. Like most Maryland municipalities, the majority of revenue comes from that source, Matthews said.

The budget is broken into five major sections: capital, fiber, water, sewer and general.

The proposed budget is considered a status quo budget, meaning there is no significant change in current city services.

About 41 percent of the general fund goes back out to personnel costs, which are the largest expense in the general fund.

The FY20 proposal puts high priority on the results of the city’s compensation and classification study, designed to “review of the city's salary structure to make sure that we remain competitive and can attract and retain a quality workforce,” Matthews said.

A general assembly vote to raise Maryland’s minimum wage to $15 in stages over the next few years will not affect the FY20 budget, but will likely put upward pressure on the salary structure in future years, according to the presentation.

The proposed budget is considered a status quo budget, meaning there is no significant change in current city services.

Water and sewer rates continue along the water and sewer allocation policy the council approved in March 2018, which was designed to address the city’s limited water and sewer resources.

The Westminster Fiber Network, a construction process that has spanned several years in phases, is also set to be finished just before the close of FY19.

When construction is finished, the city will begin making principal payments. Up until now, they have been paying the variable rate on debt service. An upcoming meeting with the state about refinancing the loan may change this section of the budget, Matthews said.

Under the capital fund, there was some concern that requests from the city's departments exceeded the available funding. This included postponing scheduled replacement of vehicles and equipment if the budget is approved as is.


Some vehicle replacement was shifted to FY21, but if the city does not consider a stormwater utility fee or find another source of revenue, it will "create significant financial pressure" on capital funding.

Capital projects include paving, renovation of 45 W. Main St., a property purchased by the city which will become administrative offices, development of a master plan for the Wakefield Valley property funded through a grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, replacement of the HVAC system at the Carroll Arts Center and other general repair and maintenance.

The proposed budget was created through about six months of work by city staff, Matthews said.

The finance committee, consisting of Gregory Pecoraro, Council President Robert Wack and Mayor Joe Dominick also had input in its creation.

“Unlike other years where we’ve had very serious problems to deal with,” Pecoraro said, “I think we’re in pretty good shape.”