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Refinancing stadium bonds helps Aberdeen save millions, cut budget

Aberdeen plans to cut its 2013 budget by 28 percent, or more than $4.8 million, much of the cut coming from savings through the refinancing of debt on Ripken Stadium.

The city made most of its savings on the debt service, as the stadium debt of $9.3 million was refinanced in October 2011.

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"We decided to refinance because the savings on the interest was huge," Finance Director Opiribo Jack said Tuesday, explaining the move is expected to also save the city $1 million over the life of the loan, which is 18 years.

Jack does not expect to refinance the stadium debt again.

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"I don't think we are going to get a better rate than this," he said.

City Manager Doug Miller said the city is also significantly reducing major new purchases to bring down the overall budget next year.

"We will do it using a couple of short-term solutions," Miller told the mayor and city council at a work session Monday that dealt mainly with budget matters.

The total operating budget proposed for 2013 is $12.4 million compared to $17.3 million in 2012; however, of the $4.9 million difference, $4.5 million on the refunded stadium debt that is being amortized on an annual basis. In 2011, the total city operating budget was $11.9 million.

Miller explained the city has cut out things considered "important but not critical" for 2013.

For example, instead of buying the typical four to seven police cars per year, the city "at the last minute" put only one in the budget. The administration also plans to delay replacing its trash trucks, which it had planned to do this year.

"We can get away with that in one fiscal year," Miller said, warning those types of cuts cannot be sustained forever.

Miller praised Police Chief Henry Trabert for keeping his cars in "immaculate" shape.

He also said the administration will cut costs during the annual Maryland Municipal League convention by not sending staff members.

"That pains me personally because, as you know, I am a big supporter of MML," Miller said.

Besides that, the administration went to every department and asked it decrease its budget 3 percent to 4 percent.

"We've gone in and attacked things that normally we wouldn't go after," Miller said. "That helped soften our blow a little bit."

The city recently introduced a resolution for a shared employee health benefits plan, which also helped save about $158,000, he said.

Miller thanked city employees, especially Trabert, for making the necessary sacrifices.

"They saw that we had a very critical situation and they offered to help as they could, and offered solutions," he said, adding again that the savings are only short-term.

"We're going to have to go back to buying cars and putting these things back in the budget," he said.

In other budget news, Aberdeen also plans to review its water rate structure, Miller said, although he did not seem to expect it to make a huge difference in what the average property owner will see.

"We will have to look at the structure of how we charge for water, and probably the water rate per 1,000 [gallons] will go down, [in] next year 2014, but we will probably up the demand charge," he said.

Councilman Bruce Garner said the demand charge is the smallest charge on the typical water bill.

Roller rink revival

Also during the work session Monday, Miller said the city hopes to use about $107,000 in new Community Development Block Grants for recreation projects that feature restoring the city's long-unused roller hockey rink.

Putting turf on the rink and lighting it would cost about $25,000, Miller said.

The mayor and council hope to use the facility for soccer and lacrosse, and build a cover over it similar to the one on the city's salt shed for all-weather use. The rink could also be converted for outdoor basketball use.

Councilwoman Ruth Ann Young expressed some concern about vandalism.

"Historically this has been an area subject to a lot of vandalism and graffiti and so on. Who's going to be there to make sure it doesn't happen?" she asked.

Miller replied: "Well, that's always a risk."

Mayor Mike Bennett added: "Since we have gotten the concession stand by the field, since that's been painted, to my knowledge there hasn't been any new graffiti there. That's been several years."

Trabert and Miller also said the property is less likely to be vandalized if more people use it.

"Activity thwarts vandalism. If something is sitting and no one is around it, vandals come out," Miller said, and Trabert added: "That's absolutely correct."

Other block grants include $45,000 for portable outdoor lights for the entirety of North Deen Park, to be used for evening soccer and football practices, painting and repairing the skate board park for $20,000, providing concrete pads for the portable outdoor lights at the park for $10,000 and having a wrestling mat for $7,000.

Bennett said the city has a very active rec wrestling program that feeds into the high school, and Garner noted it has even had to turn children away.

"It's a well-run program," Bennett said.

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