Budget Review, Employee Positions, and Grants – Hagerstown Work Session Recap

HAGERSTOWN – Tuesday night’s, 9 April 2024, Hagerstown work session began with a proclamation by Councilmember Tiara Burnett declaring April to be National Poetry Month. Following this, Chief Financial Officer Michelle Hepburn led a review on the budget for Fiscal Year 2025. She covered several topics, including assessable base and property tax rates, appropriation of General Fund balance reserves, and a General Fund overview of revenue and expenditures.

The majority of property tax dollars are used to maintain existing City services at current levels; provide salary enhancements as approved in collective bargaining union contracts; cover increasing costs of employer paid benefits; invest in capital infrastructure improvements; and accommodate annual debt service requirements. About 50% of the property tax goes into public safety, with the other 50% being split into nine other categories.

Balance reserves from the General Fund will be spent on multiple capital projects, such as public safety technology cameras and public safety radio implementation. There are a few notable increases in revenue sources for the General Fund, including: property tax revenue by 6.9%; charges for current services by 28%; and interest on investments by 304%. This last is primarily the result of the Federal Reserve Board increasing interest rates and maintaining consistent cash balances. Expenditures of the General Fund encompass multiple components. The largest of these is the General Fund wages & benefits category, which represents 61.2% of the total annual operating expenditures for the FY25 proposed budget. Contracted services also account for a large percentage of expenditures, primarily due to the new trash contract and credit card fees. The Council will continue to discuss the budget when they next convene. Anyone wishing to view the official document may do so online.

Support Services Manager Beth Everhart requested that staff be permitted to hire two full-time employees. While this will result in a temporary overfill, Everhart claimed it was necessary due to one full-time employee transferring to another department on March 25 and another 30-year employee’s pending retirement in September. This will allow staff to train the new arrivals in preparation for losing a long-term employee, as well as obtain assistance with their move to 32 N. Potomac Street in the near future. The Council approved the request.

Community Engagement Officer Brittany Arizmendi received approval to apply for a $200,000 grant from the Community Health & Safety Works program on behalf of Downtown Hagerstown Main Street. They intend to apply to two different categories, with $100,000 going to Community Placemaking and $100,000 going to Cameras, Lighting, and Related Safety Services. The funding will be used to enhance the Market Walk property between W. Franklin Street and Wellers Alley. The application is currently open, with a deadline of April 25, 2024.

Community Development Manager Margi Joe and Director of Community & Economic Development Jill Thompson appeared before the Council to review recommended amendments to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Annual Action Plan. These amendments apply to multiple activity years (FY15–FY24), and are required to reconcile CDBG funding allocations with the City budget. Staff’s previous evaluation of CDBG activities in both the HUD portal and the City financial software revealed that several approved activities were never initiated or were duplicated in later fiscal years. In order to reconcile funding utilization for these program years, staff suggested a cancellation/reduction of identified projects’ budgets, as well as fund reallocation from the Residential Single Family Rehabilitation Loan Program to the Single Family Emergency Repair Grant Program. A public notice will be provided detailing the specific amendments, and will include the contact information required for public comment. Interested individuals must provide comments by May 15, 2024.

The meeting concluded with City Engineer Jim Bender’s report that staff’s application for a Public Art Across Maryland (PAAM) grant of $30,000 was recently approved. This sum, along with an additional $20,000 from the Public Art CIP, will fund the design and construction of a storied playscape near Park Circle, entitled “Train of Thought” by artist Mary Ann Mears.