BERLIN – Town officials approved a $5.9 million general fund budget for the coming fiscal year.
The Berlin Town Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to approve the fiscal year 2021 budget. Budget approval comes two weeks after the council agreed to maintain the current tax rate of $.80 per $100 of assessed value.
“There are no changes in the budget since it was introduced on May 11,” Mayor Gee Williams said.
Williams said the general fund budget of $5.9 million represented a decrease of 4% over the current year’s budget. The town’s electric budget for the coming year is $5.5 million while the water budget is slightly less than $1 million. The sewer fund budget is $2.5 million, an increase of 2% over the current year, while the stormwater fund budget dropped 17% to $379,000. Williams said the overall budget, including all funds, was $15.1 million and represented a reduction of .43%.
During the public hearing on the proposed budget, residents questioned marketing and advertising costs. Williams said that funding helped generate spending in Berlin. Town Administrator Jeff Fleetwood agreed.
“Look how vibrant this downtown is,” he said. “It didn’t get there overnight.”
Resident Jason Walter said the town’s tax rate was nearly double the state average and asked what was being done to bring the cost of living in Berlin into check.
“The cost of living in Berlin does not need to be brought into check,” Williams responded. “This notion that you’re comparing tax rates to tax rates does not take into account that property values vary greatly throughout the state. If you live in the Baltimore-Washington corridor the rates would be lower but the actual taxes you pay per year are multiple times more than we would ever think of. Quite frankly our cost of living here is based on the values of the community.”
He indicated he didn’t think Berlin should strive to be the cheapest place to live.
“I know that the race to the bottom is a bottomless pit,” he said.
Another comment during the public hearing related to the justification for reducing fire and EMS funding. Williams said that at one time, the town had provided the Berlin Fire Company with more than $600,000 but that that had been reduced in recent years.
“We have for many, many years been the most generous municipality in this entire region, possibly the entire state,” Williams said.
He said that comparable municipalities paid $200,000 to $250,000 while Berlin this year was providing the Berlin Fire Company with $400,000. He added that all the mayors in Worcester County had asked the county commissioners to form a task force to address the issue of fire and EMS funding.
“We think it’s time that we work together on this and we can’t keep saying no to all these other things that we’re responsible for,” Williams said. “We reduced the grant so that we’re able to accomplish all these other things that people do expect.”
The council voted 4-1, with Councilman Zack Tyndall opposed, to approve the budget. Tyndall also voted against the $.80 tax rate at the last meeting, advocating instead for the constant yield rate, which would have represented a slight decrease in the cost to residents.