Berlin ‘Moving Faster Than Normal’ On Budget Process

BERLIN – After a contentious budget process last year, Berlin officials agreed to begin fiscal planning earlier than ever in 2020.

Finance Director Natalie Saleh outlined the schedule for development of the coming year’s budget for town officials this week. The process officially begins later this month, as the council is expected to review six-month financial projections and formally set the date for the tax rate public hearing in March. That’s followed up with a discussion of revenue projections in early February.

“This year we’re moving faster than normal,” Saleh said.

Last year, public outcry surrounded the town’s 18% property tax increase and subsequent water and sewer rate increases. As a result, town officials last summer approved a new tax rate review policy that ensures that officials begin discussions this month.

Saleh said Monday she was already busy meeting with department heads to discuss the most pressing capital needs for the coming year. She’s asked them to come up with a list of items that are absolutely needed as well as a list of items that are needed but aren’t as urgent.

At the Jan. 27 meeting of the council — its second meeting in January — Saleh said she’d present the town’s six-month financials and ask the council to formally set the tax rate introduction for March 9.

“You will announce the date not the rate,” Saleh said in response to concerns from Mayor Gee Williams, who pointed out that there hadn’t yet been any talk of a potential tax rate. “You’ll set the date for the tax rate … which will be March 9 so we’ll have plenty of time to talk about it.”

On Feb. 10, Saleh will present revenue projections. On March 9, the council will host a first reading of the tax rate. The public hearing on that proposed rate will be held March 23.

“With that earlier schedule it will allow us to have a good idea and understanding how we’re going to go into general fund budget,” she said.

The town will hold a general fund budget work session April 6 followed by a utilities work session April 20. An introduction of the budget is set for May 11 followed by adoption May 26.

“That will give me enough time because by June 1 I have to submit all the paperwork to the county and the state,” Saleh said.

Councilman Zack Tyndall asked about the reserve policy officials had discussed last year.

Saleh said she hoped to present it to officials early in the budget process.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.