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Westminster budget draws only praise Mayor, City Council pleasantly surprised


WESTMINSTER -- Westminster's mayor and City Council came prepared to vigorously defend proposed city spending at a public hearing Monday night.

But the dozen city residents who showed up had only compliments for the $12.3 million budget.

"I originally came here to debate the increase in the budget, but I have decided to praise the mayor and City Council," said Ralph G. Hooper.

Mark Carter said he came to the hearing to suggest using the increased property tax collections to give the taxpayers some tax relief.

He noted that because of increased property values, the city will be collecting 8 percent more in real estate taxes this year even though the rate will remain at 83 cents for each $100 of assessed valuation.

"I would have liked to see a 4 percent increase in the budget, and the rest go to a tax break," Carter said.

Judging from his introductory remarks on the budget and the city's tax rate, Mayor W. Benjamin Brown anticipated that the city's elected officials would be severely criticized for not reducing the tax rate.

He explained that the "constant yield" notice published last week was done only because the state legislature required it of local jurisdictions.

The constant yield is a tax rate that would yield the same revenue that was generated in the previous year. In Westminster's case, the constant yield would have been 77 cents for each $100 of assessed valuation, as opposed to the proposed rate of 83 cents. With the tax rate set at 83 cents, the owner of a $134,000 home in Westminster can expect to pay about $444 in city taxes this year.

Mayor Brown said that if the city maintained the constant yield rate, it would lose about $144,000 in revenue -- money used to pay for street repaving and a 2 percent raise for city workers.

He pointed out that the current City Council had been able to reduce the tax rate from 91 cents to 83 cents, but further cuts would be unwise now because of the reductions in state and county aid to Westminster.

"Nobody is certain at this point what revenues are going to come to the city," he said. "It would not be wise to cut the rate. I am comfortable to keep the rate at 83 cents."

He also said the budget reflects the real needs of the city, particularly the repair and maintenance of its infrastructure.

Of the city's $6.6 million general fund budget -- which covers general expenses but excludes water and sewer service -- $2.5 million, or 38 percent, is designated for capital improvements.

Purchase and construction of a new police headquarters at the former Westminster Auto Parts store will consume nearly half the capital improvements budget.

Renovation of City Hall to meet the requirements of the federal Americans for Disabilities Act for accessibility to the handicapped will cost $231,000.

The city also proposes spending $242,000 on remodeling the Longwell Municipal Center. After the Police Department and YMCA move out of that building, the city wants to move the Parks and Recreation Department and the Housing Department into it.

Two other major capital improvement projects are the demolition of the Gilbert Garage on East Main Street and construction of a right-turn lane from Center Street to eastbound Route 140. Those two projects will cost the city $232,000.

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