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From the Desk of
Town Commissioner Chris Staiger

(5/2012) I hope everyone has been enjoying our early spring! It’s amazing that we have escaped winter with virtually no snow. Between the early blooms and cutting of grass, it’s hard to remember that our typical planting season doesn’t begin until mid-May.

At the April 2 town meeting, we were lucky to hear from Frederick County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Theresa Alban. Dr. Alban reviewed upcoming changes to the county curriculum as a result of state and federal mandates related to testing, ‘no child left behind,’ and graduation requirements. Sadly, she confirmed that we will not see a renovation of Emmitsburg Elementary in the foreseeable future.

The Board of Commissioners also approved a resolution to join the Maryland Sustainable Communities program. Participation will allow us to take advantage of a wide range of state programs offering financial support for public, private, and commercial improvement efforts. This program compliments our recent ‘Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area’ grant application requesting funding for improvements on the town square.

From March, the town government has continued to examine the costs associated with building a second water plant in order to balance our sewer capacity and allow for future growth. Production and storage capacity in the Emmit Gardens area will not only provide additional resources, they will also provide some security against the interruption of the water supply from our only other facilities up on the mountain.

We have adopted our engineers’ construction estimates and adjusted the water connection fee charged to residential and commercial developers in order to fund this future project. I expect some opposition to this move from residential developers and their proponents, but feel this change is in the best interests of the town as a whole. Providing water and sewer services are our community’s greatest assets - and costs.

With a new entrant to the town’s garbage collection contact bid process, we have been able to score a decent savings on base garbage collection fees over the next three years. The new contract with Allied Waste management is about 25% cheaper than the next closest bidder, our current collector, Key Sanitation. Beginning with your October 1 bill, you should see a 10% reduction in the base garbage collection fee reflecting the difference between the new Allied contract and the current Key contract.

Allied currently collects residential recycling for Frederick County, so they are familiar with our area. They also offer lower fees for the roll off dumpsters required for yard waste collection at the sewer plant and for bulk trash pick-up - which should allow us to move back to two collections per year. There was some opposition to moving away from Key, but I feel comfortable with the move and will monitor Allied’s performance closely.

April and May typically bring consideration of the next financial year’s budget. Annual budgets have declined every year for the last three years – dropping $200,000 or 11.7% from a high of $1.7 million in 2008. Over this period, we have substantially reduced costs and elected to use our "rainy day" fund if major expenditures were required.

Projections from the state tax office indicate that if the town property tax rate remains the same, the town will collect $100,000 less than the previous budget year due to reduced property assessments. Faced with this reality, the Board initially challenged the Mayor and town staff to prepare a balanced budget based on the reduced funds available.

By mid-month, however, the Board decided to adopt the ‘Constant Yield Tax Rate’ (determined by the state) for budget planning purposes. This allows the town property tax rate to increase enough to collect the SAME overall property tax revenue as the previous year – basically counteracting the drop in property tax assessments. If this change was not made, could we eliminate another community deputy, or fire two or three town employees, or continue not to save towards replacing snow plows and other equipment, or continue not to repave our roads?

Property owners will see a substantial decrease in the amount of property tax due after July 1 – if only because the county has maintained the same property tax rate while assessments have collapsed 20% on average. If the town raises the tax rate to collect the same amount overall as last budget year, that overall reduction will be a little less for each of us.

More on this over the next few months as the debate develops!

As always, I encourage your participation and feedback to your elected officials! Sincerely, Chris Staiger

Read other articles by Chris Staiger