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Greenbelt adopts FY18 budget, leaves tax rate steady

greenbelt councilGREENBELT – Two months, eight worksessions and a public hearing later, the city of Greenbelt has a budget for fiscal year (FY) 2018.

The city council voted 6-0 to approve the document, which includes $28.39 million in revenue and expenditures across the city’s departments. The budget remains largely unchanged from the proposal first developed by City Manager Nicole Ard, although the council did find $20,000 to put toward new initiatives.

“We went through page by page, and we looked for savings, we looked for places where we could maybe cut. And there really weren’t any,” said Mayor Pro Tem Judith Davis. “By the end of the day, after all the hearings, we found that we had exactly $20,000. That was it.”

The budget proposal also does not raise the city’s property tax rate, although residents may see their tax bill rise because of increased valuations of properties in the city.

“This is only like the second time in the past 20 years,” ouncilman Rodney Roberts joked.

His colleague, Councilman Konrad Herling, elaborated on the point.

“I remember the late councilmember Tom White pointed out that for about a twenty year stretch, about every other year there was a tax rate increase,” he said. “It’s an incredible statement about all the (city staff) that have been mentioned in making that happen.”

The bulk of the changes to the budget, which were approved individually by the council by 6-0 votes, involve moving the funds for staff pay and benefits increases from non-departmental accounts into the relevant departments. The compensation adjustments include cost-of-living adjustments for employees and wage increases to bring the city closer to a $15 minimum wage.

The council also allocated $1,800 dollars for an interpretive sign by the old middle school, added $2,500 for a community animal response team to help the city’s pets in case of an emergency, made the concert band director a contract position with a $3,600 stipend, set aside $4,500 for the Greenbelt Theatre’s past due electric bill, and added $1,200 for an additional shuttle to Franklin Park during Labor Day festivities.

Although the budget passed unanimously, there was some discussion over the fines and forfeitures line item under city revenues, with Greenbelt resident Bill Orleans saying he believed the city should not engage in civil forfeitures.

“The only reason I raise it is, especially with civil forfeitures, Greenbelt may be benefitting moreso than is morally and ethically correct,” Orleans said.

City Treasurer Jeff Williams said the bulk of the income from the category comes from fines such as tickets rather than forfeited property from individuals arrested in Greenbelt who are later convicted of the crime. And Ard said the change in the budget line – decreasing the projected revenues from $890,000 to $880,000 – comes from a change in city policy to lower the fines for individuals with false fire alarm calls.

“It’s actually reducing the amount that folks pay and starting over at each calendar year. So, similar to what Prince George’s County does,” Ard said, noting that the issue was brought forward by planning department staff.

Orleans also brought up the issue of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, which are administered through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city of Greenbelt is not set to receive any CDBG funding in fiscal year 2018, said Assistant City Manager David Moran. The grant cycle does not follow the city’s fiscal year, so Greenbelt still has FY17 funds available through December, and did not apply for any additional money during the most recent round of grants.

However, the CDBG program could be on the chopping block, if President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint forms the basis for Congress’ FY18 budget.

“Hopefully, the community development block grant program will not be cut entirely,” Mayor Emmett Jordan said.

Although the budget includes investments in many programs supported by the council, some members said there were additional projects they would have liked to fund, but did not have the money available for.

Herling said he has been asking for an economic development position to be funded for years, and will continue to champion that cause.

“There were a number of positions that we wish we were able to add. And as my colleagues know, many citizens if not all citizens in Greenbelt know, I’ve been calling for an economic director for years. Not just to build buildings and so forth – you'll recall that I did mention the idea of multiple dwelling units, so that in some of these vacant buildings, that could be used for anything from housing to offices to incubators, to environmental purposes,” he said. “I’m hoping one day that’ll happen.”

Davis said she wished they were able to fund more staff positions. Jordan said the city has a long list of necessary infrastructure projects and it is unable to include every project in any given budget.

“It’s a little bit like building a Legos model. We have a long list of capital needs, but we only have so much money. And the way that we are able to actually address the capital budget after the regular budget is we kind of have to deal with what we have left and work our way down,” he said.

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