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Backup police car, fire department funding added to Aberdeen's $29.4 million budget

If one of Aberdeen Police Department’s vehicles is in an accident or needs other repair work, there is no spare car for that officer, Police Chief Henry Trabert said.

The Aberdeen City Council voted unanimously Monday to amend the city proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019-2020 to buy a new police car — rather than lease one — to have “on the bench” in the event something happens.

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It was one of three amendments made to the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. The council can vote on the $29.4 million budget proposed for Fiscal Year 2020 at its next meeting, on June 3. The council must adopt a budget by June 11, 20 days before it goes into effect.

As the City of Aberdeen anticipates spending another $75,000 in legal fees for the lawsuit and countersuit between the city and the owner of Ripken Stadium and the Aberdeen IronBirds, both sides are seeking time to negotiate.

The budget includes a property tax decrease of 1.02 cents per $100 of assessable base, from 65.02 cents to 64 cents for city residents, below the city’s constant yield tax rate.

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The city’s water rate is proposed to increase 59 cents from $19.09 to $19.68 for a minimum 3,500 gallons or less, while the rate per an additional 1,000 gallons over 3,500 gallons will increase 17 cents from $5.77 to $5.94. Sewer rates will remain at $23.65 for the first 3,500 gallons and $6.74 per 1,000 gallons additional.

Aberdeen, which last year entered a program to buy half its police vehicle fleet at one time and pay for annual maintenance, recently had to surplus its remaining nine Crown Victorias that were part of its old fleet, Trabert told the council members.

Some of the previous fleet were intended to be used as backups for the new ones, Trabert said, but two separate inspections showed the frames are rusting and they are no longer safe to drive.

“We cannot let our officers drive cars that are unsafe,” Trabert said, calling it an “unexpected problem.”

Rather than lease a police car if one goes down, which would be expensive, the council voted to add $48,000 to its capital budget for next year to outright buy an equipped vehicle.

Councilman Tim Lindecamp said next time the city does it budget, it should look at leasing more cars so it has some spares.

The council also approved an amendment to add a $63,164 one-time grant to Aberdeen Fire Department to help with its expansion project, bringing its contribution to the department this year to $350,000.

Lindecamp said he would like to look at the budget over the next two weeks to see if there is more money in the budget to give the fire department.

“With the annexation passing, our community is getting bigger. So as the community grows, safety has to grow,” Lindecamp said. “We’re taking care of our police like crazy because they are part of city government. But I feel we need to take care of the fire department also. They came in and told us a lot of their needs and I think we should be able to help them more.”

A local movie theater owner is planning to bring a cinema back to Aberdeen after a 22-year absence.

The third amendment was to add $4,000 to the budget for the employee residence incentive program, which offers new employees a reduction in their property taxes for five years if they live within city limits.

The council is also considering an amendment to this year’s budget to increase spending by $75,000 in legal fees to fight the lawsuit filed against the city by Tufton Baseball, owner of the Aberdeen IronBirds.

No one spoke about the amendment during Monday’s public hearing, but Bob Hartman, of the 200 block of Paradise Road, said during the public comment portion of the meeting that “enough is enough.”

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“We need to put a cap on legal services for Ripken Stadium. It’s getting to be we’re the laughing stock of the community and the county,” Hartman said. “Sit down and communicate — if it takes a mediator, so be it. We should not have to pay the burden, it’s like throwing money out, and as a taxpayer, I don’t want to see that.”

The council can vote on the amendment at the June 3 meeting.

The council can also vote June 3 on an ordinance to reduce the city’s admissions and amusement tax from 10 percent to 6.5 percent for multiplex theaters.

No one commented during a public hearing on the ordinance Monday.

With his sons, Robert Weinholt is planning to open an eight-screen theater in Aberdeen Marketplace shopping center next to Planet Fitness.

He told the council Monday that the drawings for the theater are “basically finished,” they’re waiting for the engineer to look over them before applying for a building permit.

“The landlord approved all the drawings and we’re heading forward with the project; we’ll get started as soon as we get the building permit,” Weinholt said.

Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor and his husband, Lucas, said farewell to the city of Aberdeen during the meeting. Taylor, who has been at Aberdeen Proving Ground for just more than two years, has been reassigned to the U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. A change of command ceremony is set for June 20.

“It’s amazing how our partnership has grown, but how the city is doing,” Taylor said. “Everywhere you go, there are signs of great things happening everywhere.”

In two years, Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor has created a connection between Aberdeen Proving Ground and the community outside the gate that hasn’t existed in years.

He pointed out Upper Chesapeake Health’s plan to open a free-standing medical center in Aberdeen, which will be a benefit to have right outside APG’s gates as the Department of Defense and Army are looking at scaling back on who it provides medical treatment for.

Taylor spoke about improvements at the train station, where a preview of the APG Discovery Center is helping generate interest; efforts to make the post self-sufficient in terms of its water source, and the recent job fair and science fair on post.

“It’s bittersweet, but Lucas and I are not bashful about making it clear we will come back,” Taylor said. “We’ve fallen in love with the place and the people. We just look forward to coming back to this area, setting in deep roots.”

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