One week after Rockville City Manager Rob DiSpirito presented his Fiscal Year 2019 budget to the Rockville City Council and Mayor Bridget Newton, DiSpirito had the chance to defend his proposal Monday as Newton and members of the council questioned him and discussed the city’s budget needs.
DiSpirito’s $136.2 million budget plan increases proposed expenditures by 4.5 percent over Fiscal Year 2018 but despite the increases, it does not increase property taxes. The increases would allow DiSpirito to add several new positions in the City government, including two additional police officers, one GIS/Asset Management support specialist, one urban forestry maintenance worker and one information systems security engineer.
“The proposed budget utilizes available resources in an effective and a responsible manner,” DiSpirito said. “It is consistent with the policy direction set forth by the mayor and council.”
DiSpirto’s budget offsets the cost of new hires by eliminating three “nonessential” positions, using processes that some members of the council, such as Mark Pierzchala, have favored as a way to allow for new hires without increasing costs.
Monday’s session was a chance for Newton and the council to listen as city staff broke down the budget numbers and ask questions about some of the spending increases that make up the 4.5 percent hike, including some proposed increases to city employee salaries and benefits.
DiSpirito argued that the 1 percent cost of living adjustment and 4.5 percent step increases he proposed for city employees was to compensate for the increased workload they have had to shoulder over the years due to population increases of 30 to 40 percent, even as the number of City employees has remained restively constant, leaving each employee to do more work than they once did.
“As much of anything this points out the fact that folks are working more than ever, a lot of folks are working harder, smarter than ever before,” DiSpirito said. “We’re asking a lot of them,”
Pierzchala expressed concern over the increased benefits for city employees, warning that the city cannot afford to increase benefits and salaries by that much.
“In the long run those kind of increase year-to-year are not sustainable,” Pierzchala said.
DiSpirito’s budget does not offer many major changes for the City with the exception of the proposed increases to water and sewer rates which will increase 6.3 percent per year for 15,000 gallons of water usage. Stormwater customers will see a 3.4 percent increase.
“Staff is well aware of the impact of increasing the City’s utility rate on our customers,” DiSpirto said. “Balancing the financing of our utilities with a capital investment needed, while keeping rates as low as possible over time is challenging.”
The Mayor and Council will hold three public hearings on the City’s budget in March and April before voting on a final budget May 14.