Salisbury Budget Raises Taxes

SALISBURY – As of July 1, property tax rates will increase in Salisbury with the goal in mind to raise the assessable base by attracting new residents to a healthier and safer community.

Due for its final passage on Tuesday evening was an ordinance to adopt the Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) Budget.

The ordinance, “appropriates the necessary funds for the operation of the government and administration of the City of Salisbury for the period July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015 establishing the levy for the General Fund for the same fiscal period and establishing the appropriation for the Water and Sewer, Parking Authority and City Marina Funds.”

The budget will raise the tax rate from the current .884 to .937 per $100 of assessed valuation of all real property, which is a raise from the proposed budget that was set at .897. The total budget comes to about $50 million for the next fiscal year.

“There was an incredible amount of leadership that came through the administration, Public Works in particular, in terms of cost savings,” Council President Jake Day said. “I think it is impressive and sets an example for our city in terms of being as careful as we can with every penny we bring in and not letting past costs dictate future expenditures.”

Day highlighted several projects the budget includes, such as enhancement to the Wastewater Treatment Plant and water and sewer systems that will improve the health of the Wicomico River and the community.

The budget also funds a renovation to Fire Station 2 that was found to be significantly outdated and a necessary project.

“It was one of those projects that sat on our Capital Improvement Plan for years, and it is good for the city to move forward there,” Day said.

A project Day is personally excited about is the appropriation made to partner with Shore Transit to create a Salisbury University to Downtown trolley bus.

“A big part of conversations during this budget process was on protecting our reserves and protecting the city’s financial position but at the same time spending money wisely, so we move forward with a slightly higher tax rate but I think that is defensible given the investment that we made in hiring 15 new police officers,” Day said. “Despite dramatically lower crime rates than we had in the city five to 10 years ago, we recognize we still have challenges. Heroin is a presence in our community. It is challenge many communities are facing right now, and I am proud to be part of a city that will put forth a budget that funds public safety.”

Councilwoman Laura Mitchell said the council was aware of the need to hire additional police officers but the challenge was how to fund the initiative.

“We had to be very responsible both fiscally and morally. I couldn’t get up in the morning and say ‘we didn’t put more officers on the street because we didn’t want to raise the tax rate.’ I think that you can’t put a price on somebody’s life … a raise in the tax rate will make our community safer and bring more people here letting them experience the life that we have here, and potentially raise our assessable base to get us out of this what seems like a lingering recession,” Mitchell said.

Mayor Jim Ireton also highlighted the budget includes funding for a third drinking water well at the city’s largest underground reservoir.

“The City Council will cut your water and sewer rates again by 2.5 percent, which will be a 10-percent drop over the past two years. Property taxes will go up a little bit but … we are hoping to balance that all out for you,” the mayor said.

The council voted 4-0 to approve the budget with Councilwoman Terry Cohen absent.

Next on the table in its final passage was an ordinance to decrease water and sewer rates by 2.5 percent. Without discussion the council voted 4-0 to approve with Cohen absent.