At Elkton Budget Hearing Citizens Ask Lots of Questions, but Answers are Hard to Find

Elkton Town Hall, May, 19, 2010 – During a public hearing on Mayor Joseph Fisona’s proposed 2011 fiscal year budget, several citizens offered comments. Gary Storke, a candidate for Mayor, asked the board how they were going to pay for the defined benefits plan for the FOP. While he understood the town didn’t know the full impact of the agreement, he’d heard that it was going to cost $300,000 to get the program started the first year but nothing had been included in the budget.

When former Mayor James Crouse, a candidate for commissioner, came forward, he emphasized that a budget hearing is the place to exchange views. Having sat through many budget hearings for the town and in Annapolis, this was the place the elected officials discussed their fiscal plans with their constituents.

A plea for a roll-back in taxes was also part of the former mayor’s remarks .  “Is it fair to take tax dollars in advance from people and keep that aside just in case there’s an emergency? Is that a good thing? I’d ask the mayor and commissioners to please consider bringing another $1.3-million out of the rainy day fund to reduce the taxes. You can reduce taxes and not affect the rainy day fund in Elkton. Please consider that and let the public know. I’m simply trying to get information. I’m asking you to tell me, but I haven’t heard anyone say anything yet.”

In an exchange with the professional staff, Jim attempted to find out how much cash the town maintained in the reserve fund.  Back and forth that discussion went for a couple of minutes, as the former mayor and state delegate restated his question.  The answer seemd to be about $12-million.

Bob Litzenberg asked about the $50,000 in funding for the Elkton Alliance and whether Commissioner Jablonski would be able to vote on the budget since the ethics commission had made a ruling on conflict of interest. Though there were remarks for some others the public hearing concluded after Elkton attorney Gene Herman echoed Jim’s comments about the need for the elected officials to provide the public with some comments.  (see video clips below.)

The proposed budget includes the adoption of the constant yield tax rate for the third consecutive year, according to the mayor’s letter of transmittal. This rate of 0.4734 for real property represents a 2.0% increase from the FY 2010 rate of $0.464 as the net assessable real property base decreased by the same percentage. The penny was added to the rate in order to generate the same amount of tax money as last year. The business personal property tax rate of $1.11 is unchanged, but the cap on which the rate is applied goes from $10-million to $15-million, the first increase since FY 2003. The increase will generate an additional $117,000 in revenue.

Despite the pleas from taxpayers for explanations about budget allocations or financial strategies from the mayor and commissioners, most of the exchanges with the public involved the town attorney.

Video clips highlight some of the comments.

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