Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Gaithersburg leaders discuss dollars and sense

Budget work sessions are next week at City Hall

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The Gaithersburg city budget under consideration shows a decrease in capital projects to meet hiked operating expenses while continuing a tradition of not raising taxes.

‘‘This year’s budget was a real challenge,” said Acting City Manager Jim Arnoult as he presented the fiscal 2009 budget to the mayor and council Monday. ‘‘It was a very complex budget with a lot of constraints.”

His overview preceded next week’s work sessions, when Mayor Sidney A. Katz and the City Council will hear from the public, before they finalize budget details by June. The televised sessions will begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in the council chambers at City Hall, 31 S. Summit Ave.

‘‘The emphasis this year is on providing excellent customer service, including public safety,” Arnoult said.

Arnoult proposed a $51.5 million budget for fiscal 2009, which begins July 31. Of that, the operating budget would be $42.1 million, an 8.8 percent increase over last year. The capital budget would be $9.4 million, an 18.7 For the 45th year in a row, the city will not raise its tax rate, he said. Gaithersburg has the lowest municipal tax rate of any major jurisdiction in the state, he said. Its real property tax rate is 21.2 cents per $100 of assessed value and its personal property tax rate is 53 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The city has not had much additional revenue this year – its total forecasted revenue is up $1.8 million or 3.9 percent, without factoring in $1.2 million expected from a new municipal hotel tax approved by the state which could be enacted as early as October.

Arnoult said the city’s budget team decided to allow six new positions – two police officers, two public works staff, a code administration officer and an IT support specialist. The city also hopes to hire an administrative assistant for its new fulltime city attorney.

Despite decreased revenues and project cuts, officials have proposed that all city staff get a 2 percent merit increase in salary on top of a 4.5 percent cost of living increase. To maintain health and benefit costs, the city has switched healthcare plans, said Human Resources Director Margaret Daily, who serves on the budget team with Arnoult, the city’s assistant managers and finance director.

After hearing highlights on department projects, ongoing expenses and redevelopment efforts, a dozen senior citizens stood to encourage continued emphasis on building a new senior center. Kentlands resident Dick Arkin praised staff for managing to find money to accelerate building the senior center. Tom Rouse of Olde Towne said the staff had ‘‘budgeted correctly” and asked the mayor and council to have ‘‘open eyes and open ears” thinking about Olde Towne revitalization, with a focus on the next 15 years.