Havre de Grace 2020 budget passes with infrastructure replacement fee, additional funding for Youth Commission

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The City of Havre de Grace’s $26.7 million total budget for fiscal 2020 was approved by the City Council this week, a budget that includes a $30 quarterly fee for water and sewer customers to raise money to fix aging infrastructure, as well as a $2,000 line item to support the Havre de Grace Youth Commission, established last year by council ordinance.

Council members voted 5-0 during their meeting Monday evening in favor of Ordinance 1021, which establishes the city budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year beginning July 1. Councilman David Martin was absent.

Mayor William T. Martin, who works with his staff to develop the budget and submits it for council approval, noted the spending package for next year “really is a no-frills budget,” although it does meet city obligations to municipal employees and Havre de Grace residents.

The $15.37 million general fund budget is $659,500 less than the $16.03 million general fund budget adopted for the current fiscal year ending June 30, according to budget documents. Martin said next year’s budget does include funds for items such replacing city equipment, $450,000 worth of street repairs and $500,000 for repairing stormwater management infrastructure in the Bradford Green subdivision.

The mayor stressed that property tax rates and water rates remain the same. He has said previously that the quarterly base charge for water meters will increase from $18.75 to $20, plus the capital connection charge to connect new buildings to the water and sewer system will go from $17,200 to $18,500.

The new infrastructure replacement fee, which is $10 a month or $30 per quarter, will be added to utility bills after July 1, the mayor said. Martin said city officials need to tackle the ongoing problem of aging infrastructure and water line breaks “head on,” noting that “100 percent” of the revenue collected through the fee will go toward infrastructure replacement.

“That $10 a month goes directly to replacing old, aging infrastructure — water pipes, especially in the downtown area,” he said.

Council President David Glenn thanked residents who attended a recent public hearing on the budget. He said he heard comments and discussion about whether the city should scale back what it spends on projects to enhance the appearance of the city and put more money toward utility and street repairs.

Glenn stressed that city leaders are “not kicking the can down the road” regarding infrastructure repairs, however, and officials must “find a happy balance” in the full budget. There must be a balance between multiple needs such as enhancements that support economic development and the downtown businesses, public safety, opportunities for youths, improving parks, plus infrastructure maintenance.

“We have to take everything seriously,” he said.

Glenn said council members spend hours working on the budget, going through it line by line, “trying to get it right.” He said Havre de Grace officials are working with their counterparts in Aberdeen on an initiative to sell excess water produced in the Havre de Grace water treatment plan to the City of Aberdeen. The issue is how to get the water from Havre de Grace to Aberdeen, and officials are trying to work with Harford County to potentially use a county line to move the water.

“Selling additional water, for the City of Havre de Grace [it] would be huge for us — it’d be huge for Aberdeen,” Glenn said. “We’re trying to get it right so that we get that happy balance.”

Youth Commission amendment

Councilman Jason Robertson made a motion Monday to adopt an amendment to the fiscal 2020 budget, shifting $1,000 out of additional anticipated revenue from the beginning general fund budget to the line item for the Youth Commission. The amendment, which was approved 5-0, increases next year’s total budget for the commission from $1,000 to $2,000.

Robertson is the council’s liaison to the youth commission, and he worked for a number of months to establish the commission, which is composed of adults and youth members between the ages of 13 to 17.

The commission will host its inaugural Gravity Youth Festival on Friday. The event runs from 1 to 5 p.m. and will be held on the grounds of the Susquehanna Museum at The Lock House, 817 Conesto St.; admission is free.

Robertson told his colleagues that an amendment to the fiscal 2020 budget will be presented in July, amending that budget to revise the beginning fund balance to reflect better-than-anticipated property tax revenue received this year.

“Instead of making another budget amendment [for the Youth Commission fund] next month, I’m asking that we include it in tonight’s proposed budget,” Robertson said.

He stated, in a follow-up email Wednesday, that “I felt it necessary to ensure our budget is set for FY20 ASAP so the Commission can hit the ground running planning next year's youth fest.”

Finance Director George DeHority said city administration officials “feel fairly confident” that the fund balance at the start of the fiscal year will exceed projections made in March. The first budget amendment of the new fiscal year typically adjusts the final figure for the fund balance once all revenue has come in for the prior fiscal year, according to DeHority.

“We feel certain, given the trends that we’re seeing, that the $1,000 [for the Youth Commission] will not put any of the current operations at risk or jeopardize their funding,” he said Monday.

The council also approved, 5-0, a separate amendment to the fiscal 2019 budget, establishing a $2,000 line item for the Youth Commission. The funds will be transferred from real property tax revenues and make up the commission’s initial budget, according to an inter-city memorandum from the mayor to the council president.

The $2,000 in city money would augment the $1,340 commission members have raised through donations and sponsorships to put on the youth festival Friday. They expect to spend more than $3,300 on the event, according to the memo.

Organizers have secured several sponsorships, but “have a shortfall considering the cost of the festival and trying to keep it free for the young folks,” Robertson said in his email.

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