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Havre de Grace keeps tax rate flat, welcomes new council members

With family members watching Monday night, newly elected Steve Gamatoria is sworn in to the Havre de Grace City Council by retired Harford County Circuit Court Judge Emory Plitt.
With family members watching Monday night, newly elected Steve Gamatoria is sworn in to the Havre de Grace City Council by retired Harford County Circuit Court Judge Emory Plitt. (Photo courtesy of Leo Heppner, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Most Havre de Grace homeowners and business owners will pay the same property tax rates for 2015 as they did this year, after the city council approved the rates Monday during its first meeting with three newly-elected council members.

The city is keeping the real property tax rate at 56 cents per $100 of assessed value and the personal property tax rate at $1.705 per $100 of assessed value. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

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The council did add about 4 cents to the real property tax rate for property within the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Taxing District, a levy that applies to land and buildings within 1,000 feet of tidewater.

Councilman Randy Craig noted the rate has stayed generally flat for about seven years.

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"I don't know how many municipalities can say that," he said.

Council members did not take action on raising the water and sewer rates; the council had delayed action on proposed rate increases prior to the city council election. The newly constituted council was to have a work session to come up with ways to avoid having to raise water and sewer rates by 20 percent.

Mike Ferry, of Brian Garth, however, told the council the stated 20 percent increase is not completely accurate, as it only applies to the water and sewer rate. He showed the council a copy of his bill which includes three other fixed rates, and he pointed out that when added up, the increase in his bill is around 12 percent.

Good old boys' club?

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Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr., a longtime Havre de Grace resident, administered the oath of office to Bill Martin, David Glenn and Steve Gamatoria, who began new terms effective Monday night.

The official election results were: Glenn with 791; Martin with 734; Gamatoria with 695 votes, and all took seats. A forth candidate, Bob Robinson, polled 297 votes.

Residents cast a total of 966 ballots, George Deibel, of the Havre de Grace board of elections supervisors, said.

Martin and Glenn were re-elected, while Gamatoria also returned to the council after a six-year absence.

Martin, who was later elected the new council president, noted that only 11 percent of registered voters had shown up, "but that doesn't mean we don't want to 100 percent fight for the rest of the 89 percent on a daily basis."

The council received an email before the election from someone saying "they don't want to vote for what is apparently the 'good old boys' club,'" Martin said.

He pointed out he has only lived in Havre de Grace for 20 years and several of the council members were not born in the city.

He also noted the city had cut taxes for seven years straight, held the state's top tourism events and was among the safest in the state.

"If all these things mean we're part of the good old boys' club, where do I sign up?" Martin said defiantly. "If it's a good old boys' club, so be it, but let's get the job done."

He promised next year "will be a year to remember" and told residents the council will never be complacent.

"Undoubtedly, five years from now, everyone will be able to say with pride, 'I live in Havre de Grace,'" Martin said. "Complacency is not in our vocabulary this year."

WXCY, economic plans

The council recognized country music station 103.7 WXCY on its 25th anniversary, presenting manager Bob Bloom and the station's staff with a proclamation.

Bloom, who came to Havre de Grace from the Eastern Shore, said his staff took a station that "was sort of underutilized and kind of struggling along" and bought a building, put up a tower and figured out how to make the business work.

The station has an audience of 200,000 weekly, "has a tremendous reach" and is recognized nationally, he said.

"Part of the success of the station in today's world, I think, is the local content," he said, adding he is very proud of it and its staff.

Mayor Wayne Dougherty said WXCY "is my favorite" and noted he listened to it as far north as Exit 2 on the New Jersey Turnpike.

"It was really a pleasure to get up that far and still catch your signal," Dougherty said, adding the list of community involvement and nonprofits supported by the station is "endless."

The city's newly-hired economic development director, Tom Lofland, said his vision is to make Havre de Grace recognized as "one of the most desirable and business-friendly places in the east."

He said he will focus on retail downtown and industrial businesses, including getting new businesses for vacant locations and working with educational leaders.

"I think it's really important to keep businesses and education in communication with each other and support one another," he said.

Lofland also encouraged downtown shop owners to reach an agreement about uniform hours of operation.

"It's always nice if you go downtown and you have dinner, it's nice to have some shops open," he said.

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