Late Fire Department Requests Derails Berlin Budget

BERLIN – A last minute request for more funding from the
Berlin Volunteer Fire department has thrown off Berlin’s balanced preliminary
budget.

The request, revealed Monday night at a Berlin town
council budget work session, is not part of the budget prepared by town
administrator Linda Bambary and staff, and will prompt some cuts elsewhere, she
said.

The town anticipates $4,621,077 in revenue in 2008. The
budget presented to the council Monday night shows expenditures in the same
amount, but the new fire department request unbalances the equation.

David Fitzgerald, president of the Berlin fire department,
said the company needs $133,000 more than Bambary budgeted for another building
to store equipment, and for repairs to the existing structure.

“Decisions will have to be made,” said Bambary. “It’s a
pretty substantial increase for the fire department.”

There are no new taxes in the budget presented by Bambary,
and the only fee increase would concern new water customers, with a rise in the
impact fee from $2,400 to $3,600 per EDU.

Tax revenues should increase by nearly $320,000 in fiscal
year 2008, from $.2 to $4.6 million.

Otherwise, there are few surprises or outstanding issues
in the budget.

“It’s pretty much maintaining the status quo as far as
operations and maintenance. Where we need to focus our attention is capital
improvements,” Bambary said. “The critical point will be how we fund those
capital improvements.”

The budget includes an eight percent increase in salary,
three percent for cost of living adjustment and five percent general increase,
for the 41 town employees. Town salaries have not increased by more than the
cost of living since 2002.

“Besides salary increases and benefits, there’s no
significant change in operations and maintenance in all the budgets,” Bambary
said.

The capital expenses could be funded through the bond
market, or the general fund balance.

The Planning Commission requested funding to hire a
consultant to create architectural design standards for new commercial
buildings in town.

“How can you do that without a master plan?” council
member Paula Lynch asked.

The master plan is where things go, not what they look
like, council member Gee Williams said. Lynch said she could not see design
standards for commercial buildings.

Funding for a master plan, which could top $250,000, is
not in the requested budget.

Planning and zoning superintendent Stacey Weisner asked
the council to consider maintaining the match for the Maryland Coastal Bays
Program grant. Last year the town received $5,500 for a successful program to
give away landscaping rain barrels, she said.

A future grant could be put towards one of the stormwater
control options from the Army Corps of Engineers study, perhaps for one of the
ideas that could be done right away, Weisner suggested.

Every ten years, the town issues a $1 million bond for
street projects, and fiscal year 2008 is the last year to service the most
recent streets bond.

“One million doesn’t go anywhere near what it did 10 years
ago. That’s basically one street,” said Williams.

Bambary said the goal would be to do as much street work
as possible with the funding.

The electric department is projected to suffer a 16
percent decrease in revenue in the next fiscal year, from the decrease in power

costs and also the two reductions in the PCA charges. 

Estimates call for a surplus in the wastewater

department, and a shortfall in the water department. The Berlin Mayor and
Council just began initial deliberations on the budget this week. Over the next
few weeks, they will attempt to reconcile the difference between anticipated
revenue and requested expenditures, but it almost a certainty not everything
requested will be granted. 

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