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Bel Air's proposed FY 2019 budget spends less, keeps same tax rates

Bel Air home and business owners can expect stable property tax rates without changes in town services under the town administrator’s proposed $16.6 million budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

The new budget was accepted for introduction by the Board of Town Commissioners at Monday night’s town hall meeting, where Town Administrator Jesse Bane and the town fiscal staff received praise for keeping the real property tax rate at 50 cents per $100 of assessed value and the personal property tax, the latter paid primarily by businesses on fixtures and equipment, at $1.16 per $100 of assessed value.

The town tax rates haven’t changed since the 2004 fiscal year.

“It boggles my mind that our town can go 15 years without a tax increase,” Commissioner Philip Einhorn said. “I don’t think there’s another town this size that has gone that long without raising taxes.”

“There will be no decrease in services; they will be at the same level as provided in previous years,” Bane said.

The town administrator said two position increases throughout the budget involve upgrading a senior planner from part-time to full time and an economic development position from part-time to full time with added duties in the social media area.

An additional police officer will also be hired so a school resource officer can be assigned full-time to Bel Air Middle School, Bane announced during a press conference at the county government office building Tuesday.

All town employees will be eligible for a merit based 1 percent cost of living adjustment, Bane said.

The Bel Air town budget is made up of four sections: general fund that includes major town services such as police, administration and public works; sewer fund that includes operation and maintenance of the sewer system; parking that covers operation and maintenance of the municipal parking garage and surface parking lots; and a special revenue fund for receipt and disbursements of state and federal grants, developer fees collected in lieu of stormwater management and tree planting requirements and seized property proceeds from law enforcement actions.

Capital expenditures are included within each of these funds, Finance Director Lisa Moody said.

General fund revenue and expenditures will decrease $520,000 to $13.24 million, or 3.7 percent.

On the revenue side, the town won’t receive the one-time proceeds it received this fiscal year from an energy saving arrangement with Johnson Controls ($873,000); however, total property tax revenue will increase by about $80,000 from new construction to $7.1 million and some miscellaneous revenues are projected to increase.

Since the Johnson Controls deal was a pass through to spending for street lights and other energy saving devices that also won’t occur in the new budget, the administration section of the general fund budget will decrease by $700,000 to $2.7 million.

The police department budget will have a nominal increase to $5.6 million, and the public works budget will have a nominal decrease at $3.3 million. A nominal increase in employee benefits cost is projected at $2.8 million. Total general debt service will increase $82,000 to $295,000.

Sewer fund revenue is projected to decrease by almost $100,000 to $2.4 million, because of an expected decrease in use, while expenses will decrease at the same level. Although the town runs its sewage collection system, final treatment and disposal is provided by Harford County.

The new budget projects a decrease of $250,000 in the annual amount the town pays the county for sewage disposal to $1.38 million. Meanwhile, the town will be spending $150,000 to acquire a new small jet pump truck to work on clogged lines.

Municipal water service in Bel Air is provided through the privately owned and operated Maryland American Water Company system, whose rates are regulated through the Maryland Public Service Commission.

The parking fund revenues and expenses are projected to decrease by almost $340,000 to $503,000, primarily because less will be spent on repairs at the parking garage which is owned one-third by the town and two-thirds by the county. The 2018 budget also was the last for the town to make a debt service payment on the garage which was built in 1990-91.

Special revenue fund revenues and expense will decrease by $47,000 to $479,000. The town won’t be receiving any more grant money ($212,000), nor will it be spending those funds on the Plumtree stream restoration project, which is nearing completion. It will be receiving a $200,000 increase in community legacy grant funding to $350,000 which is earmarked for completion of the Armory Marketplace project. Anticipated federal block grant funding for fiscal 2019 is $54,000, down from $92,000 in the current budget.

The town commissioners will have a first work session on the new budget Thursday at 2 p.m. in their conference room at Town Hall.

A public hearing on the fiscal 2019 budget is scheduled for Monday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m. in the commissioner’s meeting room at Town Hall, 39 N. Hickory Ave.

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