Because of a falling assessment base, Laurel Mayor Craig Moe and the city's administration were faced with some difficult decisions when putting together the 2015 fiscal budget.
In the end, though, the budget proposes no increases in property taxes within the city, which, if approved, would be the seventh consecutive budget to keep the status quo of $0.71 per $100 of assessed value. The personal property rate will also remain at $1.69 per $100 of assessed value.
The budget was expected to be voted on by the Laurel City Council on Wednesday, May 28.
"We had to make do with the amount of money that came in, and we were able to balance it; we were able to tighten up," Moe said.
The budget of $27.8 million is approximately $3 million less than the projected $30.7 million budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year. However, it is $1.2 million more than the actual budget, which ended up coming in at $26.5 million because, in part, of a dip in tax and permit revenue.
According to the draft budget, the revenue from local taxes is expected to dip from $19.6 million in fiscal 2013-14 to $18.9 million in 2014-15. The city will make up some of that gap in a projected increase in permit revenue and an expected increase in shared taxes with the state, totaling approximately $638,000.
"I was concerned when assessments went down, but I'm pretty pleased with the document," Moe said.
Moe said maintaining current city services at the property tax level residents are accustomed to was a priority.
The trade-off comes at a cost, though, because no new positions were added to the city's payroll and many items on wish lists from city departments were left off.
"There is a certain level of service people look for, and that's what I thought was important," he said.
Moe said he does anticipate assessments will increase as development projects, such as Towne Centre Laurel and the Municipal Square development, C Street Flats, start to come to fruition. When that happens, which he said could begin as early as the first quarter, the city can make adjustments.
"We are hopeful when things start coming on line we are going to see some revenue from those," Moe said.
Moe said he was pleased to include market adjustments for city employees of 2 percent and merit increases of 2.5 percent.
Collective bargaining with the city police department is also in the budget, and includes market adjustments of 2 percent for officers up to the level of sergeant and a 2.5 percent merit increase for outstanding officers. It is a three-year agreement.
Moe said the negotiations were "productive and professional."
In the capital budget, Moe said the city also had to tighten up, and that the majority of the money has been committed to road, infrastructure and maintenance repairs.
Moe said that because of the decreased revenue base, the city was not in a position to make any big splashes in capital projects.
"We just couldn't do it," he said. "It was really all about prioritizing the projects."