If the Frederick Board of Aldermen approve Mayor Randy McClement’s (R) proposed fiscal 2014 budget, city residents won’t see a hike in property tax or water and sewer rates, but all city employees will get a raise of up to 4 percent and a one-time 3 percent bonus.
“The civilian side has been asked to help keep the cost of our city down,” McClement said, noting that those workers haven’t received a pay hike in four years. “They’ve taken on a Herculean task, and we’ve seen the benefits of what they do.”
After keeping mum about his spending plan for weeks, McClement finally unveiled the budget to the public on Wednesday during a regularly scheduled workshop for the aldermen.
The proposed fiscal 2014 operating budget is about $89.2 million, up from the $82 million fiscal 2013 city budget. Fiscal 2014 begins on July 1.
The 4 percent increase for all employees, including police officers, will cost about $592,000, and the one-time bonuses will cost about $937,000, under the proposal.
The overall city budget — which includes the water and sewer fund, and self-sustaining funds, like those for parking and the city-owned Clustered Spires golf course — is about $135.9 million, down 1 percent from the $137.4 million in fiscal 2013.
Personnel expenses are about $1.3 million higher in fiscal 2014 due largely to the salary increase for city employees, who have not received a pay increase in four years.
McClement, who is running for re-election this year, said after the meeting that although the raises contribute to an increase in the operating budget for the next fiscal year, they are a way to thank city employees for their efforts to keep costs down over the last four years.
He also said that the majority of the increases in the proposed budget are one-time costs, such as replacing police and other vehicles, rather than continuing expenses.
The vehicle replacement costs are partly responsible for the increase in capital outlay, budgeted at $3.84 million, up from about $1.5 million in fiscal 2013, according to the proposal.
The capital outlay covers replacing equipment that costs more than $5,000 and transfers to other funds, such as for capital improvement, which is about $3.1 million more in fiscal 2014.
McClement’s budget would fund 141 police officers, as well as funding for five additional officers in a fall 2013 police academy to help replace officers who will have left the department by that time.
It also includes $100,000 to fund the five positions so that the department can stay at the full complement of officers during retirements, according to city documents.
Despite not raising the tax rate, the mayor’s budget projects about $940,000 in additional tax revenue for the city.
The tax rate is to remain unchanged at 73.2 cents per $100 of assessed property value.
After a 10 percent increase in water and sewer rates in fiscal 2013, those rates will not increase in 2014, under the mayor’s proposal.
The increase this year was aimed at funding rising maintenance costs and updates to the wastewater treatment plant to meet state and federal mandates for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.
A family of four pays on average about $302.50 every 90 days for water and sewer service, according to the city’s utility website.
Early reaction to the spending plan from the five aldermen was positive.
Alderman Kelly Russell (D) said she was happy to see spending for police officers and additional salary for all employees, as well as the capital improvement funding to complete the pedestrian crossings under U.S. Route 15.
Alderman Karen Young (D) also said she was glad to see the focus on police funding.
“We have had a slight uptick in crime,” she said. “... I want to make sure we leave this city safer [than when we took office], not as safe or less safe.”
After lengthy discussion, the aldermen and McClement opted to move the final budget hearing to May 14 to allow residents with obligations the next day to attend, since all the other budget hearings will be held on Wednesdays.
The budget hearings are scheduled at 7 p.m. on April 3, 10, 17 and 24 and May 1, 8, and 14. Comments on the budget can also be left on the city’s website, www.cityoffrederick.com.