BOWIE – Months of hard work has concluded with the passage of the fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget and Capital Improvements Program (CIP) for the city of Bowie.
The council voted 6-0, with Mayor Pro-Tem Henri Gardner absent, to approve the budget and the CIP during its May 15 meeting.
“Budget’s balanced, bills are paid,” said Mayor G. Frederick Robinson. “All the core services are covered, the basic needs of the city, whether they be public works or public safety or public health, trash pickup, senior services, all of that is covered.”
During the council’s budget process, only small changes were made to the budget as originally presented by city staff. The total general fund budget decreased slightly, from $55.3 million to $55.1 million. The $170,900 decrease in revenues comes from the city taking less money from the fund balance – also known as the city’s reserves. The new transfer from reserves to the general fund is $5.56 million (down from $5.7 million).
In addition to the total budget, the city also decreased the budget for the police department in FY18 from $12 million to $11.9 million, as well as transfers from the general fund to other funds (from $4.2 million to $4.1 million).
Other departments will receive slightly more money in the approved budget: emergency management ($7,900 more for a total of $472,400), recreation and parks ($300 more, bringing the total to $1.3 million) and parks and grounds ($300 more, with $3.3 million total).
The city’s tax rate will remain the same in FY18, marking the eighth straight year the council has kept the rate steady. But Councilman Michael Esteve said the decision to use fund balance instead of raise taxes was a little bit concerning for him.
“In the 2017 letter that we received from staff, we were cautioned that eating into our reserves frequently is not sustainable long-term,” he said. “If we’re seeing these budget deficits persist, we’re going to have to have that conversation at some point. I think we all know that. I just really want to highlight that. We’re doing well, the city is in a great position, but we’re facing some systemic deficits, and I’m just a little bit concerned that we can’t sustain our level of service forever.”
Robinson said the fund balance is a lot higher than it needs to be, so the transfers are not putting the city financially at risk.
“I would not use the term ‘deficit.’ Our expenditures have exceeded our revenues for the last several years. One hundred percent of that driver is the police department,” he said. “When we opened the police department 10 years ago, we told people we would raise taxes to cover that – we never have. As a consequence, what we’ve done is take a little bit out of reserves each year. That accomplishes two things. It brings our reserve down to a more moderate level and it allows us to keep the tax rate flat. Now, at some point in time, we may have to reconsider that and start raising taxes incrementally, but we don’t need to do that this year.”
Overall, councilmembers said the budget process was smooth this year, and several thanked the new city manager, Alfred Lott, for his success managing his first budget for Bowie.
“I appreciate the ease with which this went this year,” said Councilwoman Diane Polangin.
Councilwoman Courtney Glass said she was pleased that public safety and the city’s parks got such robust funding in the proposal.
“Public safety is one of my biggest concerns and so I feel like this will be an added benefit,” she said. “Additionally, the renovations to some of our recreation buildings and facilities or the renovation of the amphitheater I think will add to the quality of life for our citizens. We’re more like a small town than a big city, and that’s one of the charms of Bowie. And part of that is having the community be able to come out and, especially during the summer, enjoy each other’s company.”
Councilman Isaac Trouth said he was pleased with the addition of Pointer Ridge Plaza development as a goal in the economic development section and the increased investments in city departments.
“I want to thank the city manager and staff for adding that one additional full-time employee to help the emergency manager. And also in looking at defibrillators, the automatic external defibrillators, to make sure that we in fact are covering the ball fields,” he said.
The capital improvement program for FY18-FY23 remained unchanged from the proposal, totaling $7.3 million for the current fiscal year. Among the projects the city will undertake this year are improvements to Allen Pond Park (including new restrooms and amphitheater) for $2.2 million. Other line items are the Bowie Heritage Trail ($974,300), Whitemarsh Park ($844,000) and preventative maintenance on city facilities ($533,200).
Although the CIP also passed unanimously, Trouth said he feels the indoor sports facility project included should be re-evaluated in light of rising costs.
“We have seen that the cost has escalated to an increase of more than $10 million. So that could be something that we really need to readdress and look at,” Trouth said. “It would negatively impact the budget so I think we really need to rethink what we want to do, if we want to proceed with the indoor sports facility.”
The council will revisit this issue as part of its June 19 meeting.