FY25 Budget and Cultural Trail Safety Concerns – Hagerstown Work Session Recap

HAGERSTOWN – Tuesday’s work session, 2 April 2024, began with Mayor Tekesha Martinez providing a clarification on an issue previously discussed involving the creation of a tiny village for the local homeless population. Martinez confirmed that, despite most members of Council being opposed to the proposal as presented at the work session on March 19, they are open to further dialogue involving potential solutions to the homelessness currently prevalent in Hagerstown.

City Administrator Scott Nicewarner and Chief Financial Officer Michelle Hepburn presented the Council with the projected budget for Fiscal Year 2025. They went over key highlights pertaining to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the General Fund, utility funds, and several other categories. ARPA funding provided the City with a total of $20.4 million, received over two years. This funding must be spent by December 2024, with FY25 proposed budget expenditures totaling $4.3 million. The General Fund has a balanced budget with a $5.1K surplus, with real estate and corporate personal property tax rates remaining the same and no transfers from the Health Insurance Fund. Salary and benefit costs total $38.6 million and comprise 61.2% of all General Fund expenditures. There will be a 14% increase in water rates annually over a three-year period, and a 13% increase in wastewater rates. Future budget review work sessions will take place from April 9 to May 21. A public hearing and introduction of ordinances for the FY25 Budget and the Property Tax Rate will occur on May 7, and the adoption of those ordinances will occur on May 21.

Chief Assistant State’s Attorney Lindsey Carpenter and Special Agent Christopher Reid provided the Mayor and Council with Human Trafficking Awareness Training. They gave an overview of sex trafficking and forced labor, including the most common victims and signs of abuse. Red flags include physical indications (such as abrasions, injuries, or multiple untreated STDs) as well as clear restrictions of movement by a controller such as a boyfriend or pimp. Penalties have been put in place for any hotel or other establishment that knowingly allows human trafficking to occur on the premises. If a trafficking case is suspected, concerned parties should call 911.

City Engineer Jim Bender came before the Council to discuss a newly proposed crosswalk location on W. Baltimore Street, as part of an easement agreement with the Hagerstown Housing Authority (HHA) to relocate the Cultural Trail due to the construction of obstructing features in Meritus Park. This new mid-block crosswalk would be installed with rapidly flashing beacons to draw the attention of drivers in an attempt to protect pedestrians. Despite this, several Council members expressed concerns about pedestrian safety.

Councilmember Kristin Aleshire pointed out that trucks will be performing frequent deliveries to that location, and that the street itself experiences a lot of vehicular traffic. In addition, utility poles on the sidewalks limit visibility. Councilmember Peter Perini agreed, saying that while he believes the Cultural Trail is a huge asset to Hagerstown, he also thinks they have a responsibility to make it safe for the public. To this end, he proposed that the beacon lighting be converted into a device to stop traffic rather than simply warn drivers, and asserted that the City should not allow any impediment to traffic in the streets and sidewalks. Bender claimed that it would take about seven to eight months to implement such a device. Councilmember Matthew Schindler suggested a flashing stop sign as a compromise, and Bender agreed to look into it to ensure that Federal regulations allowed for that type of traffic control in the designated area.

Director of Planning and Code Administration Kathleen Maher, as well as Planner Joanna Wu, led a follow-up discussion on the public hearing regarding the annexation of 55 West Oak Ridge Drive, Building One. Since the hearing, they have received no public input on the annexation of this 74-acre property, with the only update being that the developer requested to speed up the process.

The meeting concluded with a Special Session in which the Council voted to approve the Annexation Resolution of 55 W. Oak Ridge Drive, Building One. It also approved the acceptance of the Coverdell Grant, totaling $49,948. This grant will be used to purchase a FARO Focus Premium scanner for the Western Maryland Regional Crime Lab.