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Council Clears Path for Budget Talks

Scott Zuke

(4/21) Emmitsburg's Board of Commissioners engaged in some 'spring cleaning' at their April 15 meeting, settling discussion on a couple of ordinances under consideration since February, and introducing new ones to codify best practices for working with and reporting on the budget.

The new ordinances, proposed by Commissioner Patrick Joy, are intended to standardize and enforce some of the budget processes that the town already employs, with some additional improvements, including a clearer definition of which projects and items should be financed under the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). Another provision would grant town departments more flexibility with their budgets, allowing them to shift 5-10% of their allocated funds between each other to cover minor shortfalls without raising any red flags. The Town Clerk and Treasurer would monitor the transfers and report them to the Council.

The recommendations were welcomed by the Board, which will begin work on the 2014 Budget this month. The May 6 meeting will include the presentation of the budget by Mayor Don Briggs, as well as a discussion of the 2014 tax rate and a public hearing on the revised water rates, which were approved by the Board at its April 1 meeting.

Commissioner Joy also presented an ordinance to amend the Town Charter's provisions for filling vacancies on the Board following Commissioner Glenn Blanchard's resignation in February and subsequent appointment of former Mayor Jim Hoover to the Board. Under Joy's proposal, vacancies would be filled at the time of the next general election, with the elected replacement serving out the remainder of the vacating member's term.

While Commissioners Hoover and Cliff Sweeney reiterated their preference for the current practice of having the Board appoint a replacement, they also acknowledged that the process in February felt "rushed" and "uncomfortable."

Citing concerns about transparency and avoiding divisive political appointments at the March 4 Council meeting, Commissioners Joy, Tim O'Donnell, and Chris Staiger voiced support for changing the Charter to drop the appointment option.

"We came to a consensus, at least three of us, to go forward with the general election idea," Joy said. "That's what I brought back."

Joy will work with town staff to finalize wording of the proposal before it is brought back for a public hearing at a future date.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Hoover volunteered to work with staff to put the finishing touches on an ordinance to allow residents to raise and keep hens in backyard chicken coops. The Board's remaining concerns mainly deal with how the language is to be incorporated into Title 6 of the Town Code, which presently deals only with dogs. Since the chicken ordinance presented by Town Planner Susan Cipperly is modeled closely after the language on dogs, Hoover suggested that it may be simpler to expand the current language in order to avoid unnecessary duplication.

Other action was on hold until after the Planning Commission discussed the ordinance at its April 29 meeting, and the 2014 budget work may push a final public hearing on the matter into the summer.

Finally, the Board accepted a bid from Serenity Pool Management, LLC, to staff the community pool this summer. The $44,853 bid covers four lifeguards and one gate guard, as well as special events and swimming lessons. The only other bid, submitted by American Pools, was withdrawn in March. The town has a history of working with Serenity on multi-year contracts in the past, but switching to a more competitive one-year contract led them to reduce their bid by 15%, according to Town Manager Dave Haller.

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