(4/2012) Well, Spring has sprung – let’s hope it’s a long one and not a quick jump into summer! March saw continuing discussions between the Mayor, town staff, and the Board of Commissioners on budget topics, sewer and water funding, and some housekeeping issues. A number a loose ends have been tied up which will allow us to move forward on
a variety of fronts.
Town Planner Sue Cipperly has completed a grant application to ‘The Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area’ for funding related to studying improvements on the town square. In early April, an application to the Maryland Sustainable Communities Program will also be completed. Participation will allow us to take advantage of a wide range of
state programs offering financial support for public, private, and commercial improvement efforts.
The Board of Commissioners approved new sewer service rates that have often been discussed in this space. The rate changes related to sewer service go into effect April 1 and will be reflected in your June 30, 2012 statements. While these rate increases will add to residents’ financial burden, the new structure is still competitive with
neighboring municipalities – many of whom have yet to address the costs associated with implementing state and federal clean water mandates.
Mayor Briggs and staff proposed alternate funding options to generate the income required to support our municipal pool. These included an to increase user fees, or a general tax increase or a new ‘recreation fee’ charged to each dwelling unit suitable to collect the necessary revenue. The reality is that the pool costs the town more to
operate on a daily basis than providing police coverage – and the pool is only open for a few months. I think these were fair questions to ask elected officials to take a position on and were necessary to plan another challenging budget.
The Board of Commissioners has reviewed funding for the operation of the town pool and will continue using general fund revenues to cover the gap between entry fees and operating costs. The cost of running a municipal pool is very high, but elected officials for many years have seen value in continuing to offer this service to the community
through this funding mechanism. I appreciate that this is an expenditure with a pretty narrow focus, but I believe we can do better to expand this opportunity and make it more attractive to a wider base.
One improvement we have sought for a number of years is finally close to realization. State monies have been received to help underwrite the cost of a "Splash Pad" to replace the defunct baby pool. The Board has released funds from our ‘rainy day fund’ to make up the balance. Construction will begin this Fall after the close of this
summer’s season. The new facility with a fountain and jets will be safer, more widely accessible, cleaner, and more reliable than the traditional baby pool option.
The town government has also declared the week of April 15-20 to be Financial Literacy Week. This request initiated by Commissioner O’Donnell is meant to highlight efforts to increase awareness about the importance of financial education and the serious consequences that may be associated with a lack of understanding about personal
finances. Please look for events at our local library and Mount St. Mary’s during that week!
Supporting yet another O’Donnell initiative, the Board has approved outlining/flagging an intermediate difficulty mountain biking and hiking trail in the Rainbow Lake area. The beginner trail is nearing completion and this approval will allow for a smooth transition in volunteer efforts to expand the project. This trail system will open
town watershed lands to a greater variety of uses while maintaining a priority for traditional hunting. Best of all, it hasn’t cost the taxpayer a dime
The Board has also adopted Architectural Guidelines that identify and seek to preserve the ‘old town’ character of our historic district which encompasses most of the downtown area. While these guidelines don’t create mandatory requirements or an architectural review board, they do clearly state the preferences of our community and can
serve as a basis for negotiation for projects requiring zoning review and approval.
Lastly, the town government has begun to examine the costs associated with building a second water plant on the east side of town in order to balance our sewer capacity and allow for future growth. This may require some changes to the fees charged to commercial and residential builders. No decisions have been made at this time.
As always, I encourage your participation and feedback to your elected officials! Sincerely, Chris Staiger
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