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From the Desk of
Town Commissioner Chris Staiger

(3/2012) I hope everyone is enjoying our mild winter – I know I’m disappointed to be stuck inside when it’s sunny and sixty five degrees outside… Now to just escape that late March "payback" storm(!) Town business in February focused primarily on money issues including the presentation of independent audit results for the budget year ending June 2011, discussion of possible spending priorities for the budget year beginning July 2012, and implementation of new sewer service rates. The Mayor and Board of Commissioners have also decided to participate in the Maryland Sustainable Communities Program as a spring board to promote public and private improvements in the historic district and Chesapeake Avenue corridor.

The recently revitalized Sustainable Communities Program is meant to better coordinate individual programs designed to achieve investment in housing, historic preservation, and economic and transportation development in existing neighborhoods and town centers. In many ways it can be similar to the Main Street Maryland Program – but without the upfront costs, additional administrative layer, and (primarily) commercial property focus. Substantial rehabilitation tax credits are available for both homeowner and commercial properties in the program area as well as low cost loans for property improvements. We plan to complete our application by April 10.

Town Planner Sue Cipperly has also submitted an application to the State of Maryland Heritage Area Authority Grants Program. We are eligible for funding based on our participation in the Heart of the Civil War Heritage area. Grant support of up to fifty percent is available for local projects that meet the programs guidelines. One area for potential improvement identified in the Heart of the Civil War literature is the Emmitsburg town square – with a particular recommendation to make the square more pedestrian friendly.

The Mayor and Board of Commissioners have identified both programs as a method to provide an overall framework for our efforts at historic preservation, public and private investment, and commercial development. We are currently working to initiate a process for these improvements to take place – beginning with stakeholders in the community identifying improvement priorities. An organized and public process is necessary to build the broadest base of community support. I appreciate that historically, this has not been the town government’s strong point…

Switching gears – and I always feel like a rude party guest harping on about money – the town has received additional budget projections from the state that show an extremely negative impact on the next financial year’s budget, beginning July 1, 2012. With property tax reassessments in the Emmitsburg area resulting in a 20% overall drop in property values, the ‘Constant Yield’ tax rate formula suggests that we need to raise taxes from $0.36 per hundred dollars of assessed value to $0.426 per hundred dollars of assessed value – an approximate 18% increase. Without the suggested tax increase, we can expect a reduction of $110,000 to $140,000 (about 9%) in revenue in the upcoming budget year.

Maintaining a balanced budget in our General Fund expenditures looks to be a difficult challenge again this year… I am committed to using our reserves, or ‘rainy day fund’, only for specific project related expenditures promoting the public health, safety and welfare. And these expenditures must be individually reviewed and approved by the Board of Commissioners at a public meeting. Too often in the past, large expenditures have been buried in the details of the General Fund with thin oversight or review. I oppose releasing any of our reserves to the General Fund simply to plug a hole in daily operating expenses. Doing this removes the incentive to find savings. I will continue to challenge the other elected officials on these points.

Finally, I want to thank those who took the time to attend the Public Information meeting on February 16 related to the sewer plant upgrade. This session was arranged by Mayor Briggs in an effort to share information on the decision making that went in to the design requirements. I think this valuable information helped everyone, including the elected officials, better understand the new state guidelines as well as the intended design and performance of the new plant.

As always, more to follow! Please don’t hesitate to contact me or any of the other elected officials with your questions or comments. Sincerely, Chris Staiger

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