Bel Air's final budget set at $16.6 million, tax rates unchanged

The Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners has given final approval to the town’s $16.6 million budget for the 2019 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The new budget is about $1 million less than the current one, as some non-recurring expenditures and revenue are no longer on the books, plus there will be a net reduction on sewer bills because of the elimination of a county charge.

The town’s real property tax rate will be unchanged at 50 cents per $100 of assessed value and the personal property tax rate also will be unchanged at $1.16 per $100 of assessed value. The latter is collected mainly on business equipment.

Town employees and police officers will receive a 1 percent, merit-based cost of living adjustment after July 1.

While total spending will be lower than 2018 and the employees will be getting raises, there will be no reduction in services, Town Administrator Jesse Bane said.

Bane told the commissioners the new budget posed “challenges,” but they were still able “to maintain a constant tax rate,” as well as services.

The town will, however, eliminate its early property tax payment discount of up to 1 percent (July) to pay for an additional school resource officer, who will be stationed at Bel Air Middle School, Bane said.

The commissioners held a second public hearing on the budget as part of Monday night’s town meeting. No one from the public spoke. They also held a public hearing on April 16 and had six work sessions on the budget that were open to the public, Finance Director Lisa Moody said.

After adopting a handful of amendments following Monday’s hearing, the five commissioners approved the budget unanimously.

Bel Air’s real property tax rate is the lowest among Harford County’s three municipalities, six cents lower than Havre de Grace’s and 15 cents lower than Aberdeen’s. Both the Bel Air real and personal property tax rates have been unchanged since the 2014 fiscal year, Bane said.

In addition to a second school resource officer – the current one is assigned to the high school but also checks on other public and private schools in town, Bane had said previously the only other 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.

Town residents and businesses will get a bit of good news when the new fiscal year starts, as there will be a net reduction in the sewage use fee of 12 cents from $5.99 per 1,000 gallons quarterly to $5.87.

Bel Air’s sewage is treated by Harford County, and residents and businesses pay a quarterly base fee depending on water meter size and the usage fee.

Under the service contract between the town and county, the base and usage fees are increased based on the December Consumer Price Index for the region, which went up 2.7 percent last year, Moody said.

But while the base and usage fees will reflect that increase, Moody said the latter is going down because the county is no longer charging the town 24 cents per 1,000 gallons for enhanced nutrient removal.

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, according to Moody.

The final FY 2019 general fund was set at $13.2 million, the final parking fund at $503,032, the final sewer fund at $2.4 million and the final special revenue fund at $479,000.

The parking fund is decreasing by about $300,000 because the town is spending less on repairs to the parking garage than was the case in in the 2018 budget, plus it no longer has to pay a share of the debt floated to build the garage 25 years ago. The garage is owned one-third by the town and two-thirds by the county.

Moody said the town receives revenue from the parking garage, surface parking lots and street meters, as well as from fines. In addition to spending for maintenance and operations of the parking facilities, it also pays 20 percent of fines collected to an outside vendor that handles the fine collections.

The town will pay the county almost $1.4 million for sewage treatment, while spending $1 million to operate and maintain the sewer lines and pumping stations inside the town. The latter figure also includes purchase of a new jet truck, used to unclog lines, estimated at $150,000.

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