OCEAN CITY – After cutting and reviewing individual budgets, Ocean City’s departments have been coming before the Mayor and Council this week to present their respective fiscal year 2014 (FY14) spending plans.
Budget hearings for the FY14 proposed budget began last Thursday and were scheduled through Wednesday of this week with the final budget wrap up today.
At the conclusion of this week’s Mayor and City Council legislative session, Councilman Joe Mitrecic stressed the amount of work that goes into the budget process.
“The budget is something that I personally as a councilmember take very seriously. I make sure I am at all the budget hearings and I am prepared for them,” Mitrecic said. “We start with a proposed budget. It is called a proposed budget because it is not what we normally end up with. I want the people in this audience to know and the people watching to know that this council is going to do everything we possibly can to bring that budget in at a reasonable number. We do have a couple of things working against us … we are starting in a bit of hole this year because of the arbitrary penny gave back last year at the last minute.”
The FY13 budget reached first reading last year with a tax rate set at the constant yield rate of 46.85 cents per $100 of assessed valuation of real property.
The former council majority amended the budget and reduced the tax rate by one penny to provide relief to the taxpayers of Ocean City. The reduction in the tax rate required about $863,000 to be taken from the fund balance to fund the budget rather than with tax revenue.
According to Recor, the preliminary FY14 General Fund budget is based on the constant yield tax rate of 46.20 cents plus an additional 2.44 cents for a total preliminary tax rate of 48.64 cents per $100 of property value. Based on an average assessed value of $221,000, the average tax bill would increase by $39.56 when compared to the 2013 tax rate of 45.85 cents. The proposed tax rate includes making up for the penny reduction from the last fiscal year.
“That figure was achieved by a lot of collaboration and discussion and cooperation with the city’s departments,” Recor said last week of the preliminary General Fund budget total. “There have been $4.2 million in reductions from what the departments had originally requested to the figure that is included in the Preliminary budget that is equivalent to 3.30 cents on the preliminary tax rate.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the Mayor and City Council reviewed two of the larger portions of the budget the with fire and police departments.
The overall Ocean City Fire Department (OCFD) FY14 proposed budget is $10.2 million with budgeted revenue of around $2.2 million leaving a town contribution of about $8 million, which is a 3-percent increase from last year’s budget.
The OCFD is divided into three divisions — Volunteer, Fire Marshal, and Fire/EMS Division. The Volunteer Fire Division’s total proposed budget for FY14 is $1.3 million with budgeted revenue of $2,500 leaving a town contribution of about $1.3 million. This results in a budget decrease of 17 percent, or almost $264,000.
“The total budget was reduced from last year … largely due to a grant that we were successful in receiving,” Fire Chief Chris Larmore said.
According to the proposed budget, the line item of Operational Supplies decreased by about $150,000 from the FY13 revised budget, which included $200,000 for the first year of a three year replacement of the department’s self-contained breathing apparatus. A grant was received to cover all but the $20,175 local match.
The Fire Marshal Division’s total proposed budget for FY14 is about $1 million with budgeted revenue of $137,000 leaving a town contribution of about $950,000. This is a budget decrease from last year of 9.9 percent, or about $104,400.
“A large portion of that was a reduction in overall staff,” Larmore explained of the decrease.
Seven full-time employees are included in the Fire Marshal’s division. One full-time fire marshal position was eliminated in FY11. In FY12, the assistant chief deputy fire marshal position was eliminated through reorganization after the retirement of the deputy chief fire marshal.
Wage increments for all full-time employees have been included. Savings are realized through the retirement of a long-time employee. Increases in health insurance and worker’s compensation costs have been offset by reductions in the projected funding for pension and retiree health.
The Fire/EMS Division’s total proposed budget for FY14 is about $7.8 million with budgeted revenue of about $2 million leaving a town contribution of about $5.7 million. This results in a budget increase from last year of 7 percent, or almost $396,700.
Most of the increase is due to personnel changes. The FY13 budget included 37 full-time positions. Six Firefighter/EMT positions converted to part-time in FY13 have been included as full-time employees in FY14. A reduction was made in part-time staffing to partially offset the conversion to full-time.
‘It is also due to the increase of overall salaries based on the collective bargaining agreement,” Larmore said.
The overall Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) FY14 proposed budget is almost $20.7 million, including a new roof for the Public Safety Building at an estimated cost of $631,000 and bullet proof vests in the amount of $18,800, which succeeds last year’s budget by over $340,000.
“We did see an increase of approximately $150,000 in our part-time salaries, this will include seasonal officers,” Captain Michael Colbert said.
According to the proposed budget, the allocation for part-time sworn officers to handle some of the duties of special events, background investigation, training and hack inspection were increased by about $49,000. A request to fund 10 patrol watch Public Safety Assistants (PSAs) for 14 weeks has been included for about $62,700. Seasonal officer staffing increases were sought by about $11,200.
The OCPD’s proposed budget also includes the purchase of 14 additional Tasers to equip police officers at a total cost of almost $40,000.
“This purchase would help us outfit the majority of our officers,” Colbert said.
Colbert was disappointed to include the cost to replace the roof in the OCPDs budget because the project’s expense sent it over last year’s budget.
“This was added to our budget and I know there have been talks about pulling this out and finding funding in a different way,” Colbert said of the new roof.
Colbert explained that the proposed budget includes 100 percent funding for new bullet proof vests but recommended only including 50 percent of funding so the department can secure a grant from the federal government to cover the other half.
“If we funded at 100 percent, we wouldn’t be able to get grant money from the federal government for some of the vests because they won’t allow supplanting, or use it for something we already budgeted for,” he said. “If we funded it at 50 percent as in the past, they will pay for the other 50 percent.”
If the new roof for the Public Safety Building and 50 percent of funding for bullet proof vests is removed from OCPDs proposed budget, the budget will be decreased from last year at a total of $20,045,000.