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Town sets tax rate, increases staff pay

Lack of input from residents prompts Emmitsburg officials
 to adopt rate earlier than scheduled

Ingrid Mezo
The Gazette

(6/1) Emmitsburg officials set the town’s property tax rate at 36 cents per $100 of assessed property value for fiscal 2007 and voted to provide a 3 percent ‘‘cost of living" increase to town employees during a special town meeting on Tuesday.

Commissioner Chris Staiger cast the sole vote against the tax rate. Commissioner Bill O’Neil came to the meeting, but left prior to either vote because he was ill. The board unanimously approved the 3 percent cost of living increase for town staff.

The property tax rate will remain at 36 cents — the rate for fiscal 2006, but that rate is higher than the constant yield rate. That rate — 33.1 cents per $100 of assessed value — is what the town would have to impose in order to obtain the same amount of property tax revenue in fiscal 2007 as it received in the previous tax year. The Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation determines the constant yield tax rate.

Originally, town officials were not going to set the property tax rate until June 5. The town held a public hearing before voting on the tax rate on Tuesday, but no one signed up to comment, and there was only one resident in attendance.

Town officials discussed whether they would use the constant yield rate in preparing the budget during an April 17 meeting.

Newly elected Commissioners Clifford Sweeney and Joyce Rosensteel were not present at the April 17 meeting. During that meeting, Staiger made a motion to use the constant yield rate in preparing the budget. The motion, backed by Commissioner Glenn Blanchard, failed when O’Neil and then-Commissioner Art Elder voted against it.

Prior to casting votes for the tax rate and cost of living increase on Tuesday, town officials discussed the budget for fiscal 2007, which begins July 1.

‘‘What we’ve done is different in past years," Mayor James Hoover said. ‘‘...There are no unreserved monies in this budget. In past years, typically we have had a large amount [of funds] undesignated. This year, if we become short-funded or something we didn’t expect comes up, we’ll have to do a budget transfer. We will now have to direct town staff to come up with the funds and take them out of one particular line item."

Hoover explained that the reason he and town staff designed the budget this way for fiscal 2007 is to leave a paper trail of where the town is spending its money, and shows when the town plans to fund future projects.

Proposed expenditures in the new budget include adding a third Frederick County sheriff’s deputy at a cost of between $85,000 and $90,000 per year. Hoover said the town’s two deputies have been responding to more than 2,900 calls annually, which makes them less visible in town. In addition, he pointed out that with other demands on deputies’ time, such as court duty, leave, training, holidays and vacation, a deputy is only in town 30 out of the 40 hours a week the town pays to have them.

‘‘It’s really hard for a public official to argue against an increase in public protection expenditure," Staiger said.

Town officials have until June 30 to approve the fiscal 2007 budget.

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