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Havre de Grace budget focused on capital improvements, no increases to property taxes or utility rates

Havre de Grace Mayor William T. Martin has proposed a $20.9 million general fund budget for the next year, with an emphasis on bond and grant-funded capital projects to fix water and sewer infrastructure, as well as improving Chesapeake Bay water quality with shoreline preservation initiatives and upgrades to city parks and the downtown district.

The mayor has allocated, out of the nearly $21 million general fund, $5.4 million for capital equipment and projects, an increase of about $3.4 million over the capital program for the current fiscal year.

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“By dollar magnitude, the spending is focused on preserving our shoreline,” Martin said as he read from his introductory memorandum after presenting copies of the fiscal year 2022 budget to the City Council on Monday.

“By project volume, the emphasis is on strategic upgrades to the city’s downtown businesses and entertainment venues, and public parks,” he continued.

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The mayor also noted that city officials are in the final stages of getting State Highway Administration approval to install a trolley downtown, a project that has been in the works for a number of years.

“I have every confidence we will finally be able to improve access throughout our downtown,” Martin stated.

Some of the largest capital projects included in the general fund include $100,000 for the trolley, another $100,000 for “city-wide enhancement projects,” $450,900 for street repairs, more than $1.08 million for remediation of city-owned property along Water Street as well as $2.75 million for the city’s planned “living shoreline” improvements along the Susquehanna River near Water Street. The last two projects come with grant support from the state and Harford County, including $2 million from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and $500,000 from the county for the living shoreline, according to the budget.

Havre de Grace Mayor William T. Martin has proposed increasing slip fees at the city owned marina in Tydings Memorial Park by $7 as part of his proposed fiscal year 2022 budget.
Havre de Grace Mayor William T. Martin has proposed increasing slip fees at the city owned marina in Tydings Memorial Park by $7 as part of his proposed fiscal year 2022 budget. (HARFORD MAGAZINE FILE PHOTO, Matt Button)

The mayor also put forth a $13.4 million water and sewer fund budget and a $1.3 million marine facilities fund budget for next year. Both come with significant capital spending plans, such as $5.1 million for the water and sewer fund. The majority of those projects —$4.9 million worth — would be covered through the $15 million bond issue city voters approved in February of 2020, according to the mayor.

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Martin also plans marine facilities improvements such as dredging and replacing underground fuel tanks with “ecologically safer units.” Because of those expenditures and a smaller-than-usual projected surplus of $230,000 at the end of the year, the mayor proposes increasing slip fees rates by $7, so boaters would pay $64 per linear foot when docking in a public marina.

This would be the first slip fee rate increase since fees went up by $1 in fiscal 2015, according to the mayor.

“The city has $5.7 million in anticipated [marine] capital costs for fiscal years 2023 through 2028, so I am searching for grant opportunities to reduce the frequency and magnitude of additional rate increases beyond fiscal 2022,” Martin stated.

The mayor does not plan to increase real property tax rates beyond their current level of 56.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value, even though the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation has estimated that the city’s “net assessable” real property tax base will see a $25.5 million increase next year. State officials also recommend reducing the tax rate to 55.6 cents per $100 of value.

“The sizeable growth in both population and residences places a greater demand on city infrastructure and services,” Martin stated.

He noted than an estimated increase of $145,000 in property tax revenue “will only partially offset the increased operating costs created by this increased demand.”

Martin also does not plan to increase “any metered or base fees” for water and sewer rates.

The mayor discussed the estimated $11.7 million in federal COVID-19 relief slated to come to Havre de Grace, as well as municipalities all over the country, in the next year via the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan adopted in March.

Those funds, which are expected in two installments with the first installment expected in the next couple of months, are not part of the budget Martin submitted to the council Monday. Next year’s budget would be amended by the City Council once the federal funds have been received.

“The budget I’m handing the council this evening is basically based on your tax revenues and grant money,” Martin said, addressing citizens.

The mayor and officials in his administration are gathering information on when the money is expected to come, what the exact amount will be and what will be the restrictions on how it is spent — it cannot be used to lower property tax rates or support municipal employee pensions, Martin said.

The mayor anticipates spending the majority of the federal funds on water and sewer infrastructure improvements, as well as economic development initiatives and assisting businesses and industries affected by the pandemic.

He has received multiple emails already on how the money could be spent, and he encouraged people to contact the mayor’s office or City Council members with suggestions.

“I still commit to you, that whatever council ultimately decides to do, it will be something that we can justify for the benefit of the greater good of the community,” Martin said.

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