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Public silent after Bel Air commissioners review FY16 general fund budget

The Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners received the town administrator's proposed fiscal 2016 budget Monday, which includes funding for raises for town employees, capital improvements to the Bel Air Reckord Armory and debt service payments on the Bel Air High School auditorium, without raising taxes.

The property tax rate will remain at 50 cents per $100 of real property valuation and $1.16 for every $100 of personal property value, Lisa Moody, finance director, said.

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The community also an opportunity to present its views on the budget during the first of two public hearings; however, no one spoke. The commissioners then unanimously adopted a resolution formally receiving the budget for their consideration in the coming weeks.

Town Administrator Jesse Bane and Moody presented a detailed portrait of expenses and revenues for the $12.4 million general fund, which takes up 77.6 percent of the proposed $16.04 million budget.

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A second public hearing is scheduled for May 18, when the commissioners will also hear presentations on the sewer and parking enterprise funds, along with the special revenue fund.

Director of Administration Michael Krantz said later that the commissioners are scheduled to vote on adopting the full budget May 18.

"We aren't required to hold the second hearing, but we want to give everyone an opportunity see the budget, hear about it and ask questions," Krantz said Tuesday. "We are moving through the process. Nothing has been finalized."

Bane said during his presentation that the general fund for FY2016 will be $82,004, or .66 percent, less than the $12.5 million general fund for the current fiscal year.

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He said this proposed decrease will "match the revenue stream that we have."

The general fund is supported largely by property taxes, which cover 61.1 percent of revenue, followed by state shared revenues such as income taxes, highway user revenues – primarily gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees – and police protection grants. Other revenue sources include transfers from the prior year's fund balance – or surplus, transfers from enterprise funds, proceeds from selling vehicles and equipment, license and permit fees and then interest and fines, according to budget documents provided by the town.

Moody said the state-shared revenues include a $279,710 "one-time grant."

"We'll have further discussions as to what we'll do with that funding," she said.

Bane proposes giving a merit pay increase to all eligible town employees, with an average increase of 3.5 percent.

"Those who are at the end of their pay scale, unfortunately there is no further merit increase for them," he said.

The general fund covers public safety, public works, general government operations, employee benefits, debt service, various committees and other expenses that fall under the "miscellaneous" grouping.

Bane said the town's health insurance provider initially proposed an 18 percent rate increase, later reduced the increase to 10 percent, and he said town leaders were able to negotiate that increase down to 8 percent.

"Unfortunately, we're not going to be able to get that any lower," Bane said.

Employee benefits are budgeted for $2.4 million for next year, which is $165,056 more than the $2.2 million budgeted for FY2015. About half of that amount for FY2016 - $1.05 million - is set aside for health insurance, followed by $454,700 for Social Security, $454,300 for pensions and $294,800 for worker's compensation.

About $1.02 million has been set aside for capital improvements, which is $258,474 less than the $1.2 million budgeted for this year.

Bane also highlighted proposed capital improvements such as $285,000 for repairs to six streets, $42,500 for repairs to five sections of sidewalks, $99,913 to replace three police vehicles and purchase new firearms, $102,850 for replacing computer hardware and software and $35,000 to install a new roof over the front office at the Armory.

The town will spend $110,130 less on debt service next year – $522,115 for FY2016 compared to $632,245 for FY2015.

A large portion of the debt service – $277,895 – has been budgeted for continuing to repay principal and interest on the town's share of the cost of expanding the Bel Air High School auditorium.

Moody said $223,508 will be transferred from the unassigned fund balance to help pay off the first installment of the auditorium debt.

Bane said one of his priorities is to reduce Bel Air's debt service, although he stressed it is not hurting the town.

"The thing is, it's better to have no debt, or very little debt, rather than debt that hinders what we want to do to move the town forward," he said.

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