LAUREL – Laurel residents will not see a tax rate increase next year, Mayor Craig Moe said while discussing his proposed FY 2020 operating budget with the Laurel City Council on May 1.
The proposed budget maintains the city’s real property tax of 71 cents per $100 of assessed property value and personal property tax of $1.69 per $100 of assessed value while maintaining current city services.
“The development and appropriation of this budget began with the focus on an effort to reduce expenditures, eliminate duplication and streamline services,” Moe said.
The $34.7 million budget also includes a 2.5 percent market adjustment, and merit step increases for city employees, as well as 2.5 percent market adjustments for members of the Laurel Police Department (LPD).
Also included are state grants of $325,000 for the proposed Multi-Service Center, which will serve as a centralized location for the city and other agencies to provide services for people in need and a $250,000 grant for improvements to the Stephen P. Turney Recreation Complex.
“It’s an exciting time in Laurel,” Moe said.
Michele Saylor, the director of the city’s Department of Budget and Personnel Services, presented specific aspects of the budget in more detail.
Saylor noted that while city revenues are expected to increase by a net of 1.36 percent, revenue from fines and forfeitures are expected to decrease by more than $550,000 in part due to performance of the city’s red light cameras and a decrease of almost $700,000 in the city’s miscellaneous revenues, based on reduced budgeting for the use of designated funds.
“The decrease, particularly in the red light cameras, I think we consider that a good thing because that’s the presumption that people are obeying the law and not getting ticketed,” said Frederick Smalls, the council president and Ward 2 council member. “I think it’s a good point to make when you mention the decrease that it’s because of increased public safety.”
Saylor said the decrease in red light traffic citations has corresponding effects on the operating expenses, which are expected to decrease by almost $350,000.
“The decrease to the operating expenditures reflects the corresponding expenditures in the police budget for processing those citations,” she said.
The largest portion of the budget is allocated for the public safety department, which utilizes 33 percent of the proposed budget. Non-departmental uses make up 27 percent of the budget, with general government, public works and parks and recreation utilizing the remaining 16, 13 and 11 percent of the budget, respectively.
The largest source of revenue for the city is real estate taxes, which have not been increased since 2009, Saylor said. These taxes account for more than $20 million in revenue, according to the budget.
Councilmember Michael Leszcz pointed out that city’s TIF revenues, or tax increment financing, have provided additional revenue for the city. Leszcz used both the TIFs for Laurel Town Center and the Anderson’s Corner mixed-use development on Contee Road as examples.
“Those are net payments net of what we actually gained in tax revenue,” Leszcz said.
Leszcz said the tax revenue for Laurel Town Center was about $100,000 before it was bulldozed. It has increased as a result of the redevelopment, he said.
“We’re not giving money away, we’re not giving anything away,” he said. “This is a good economic tool that can be used by the city to push, in this case, a non-producing property back into a producing situation, producing tax revenues for the citizens.”
The budget is available online through the city’s website, and hard copies will be available, Saylor said.
A public hearing on the ordinance to adopt the budget, which will take effect July 1, will be held on May 13 at 6 p.m.