Berlin Council Adjusts Revenue, Approves $11.5M Budget

Berlin Council Adjusts Revenue, Approves $11.5M Budget
The Berlin Town Council discusses the budget last month. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

BERLIN – After a few last-minute changes, town officials approved an $11.5 million budget for the coming fiscal year.

The Berlin Town Council on Monday voted unanimously to approve an $11.5 million general fund budget for fiscal year 2024. The budget represents a 33% increase in revenues.

“I thank all of our staff for your help compiling this year’s budget,” Mayor Zack Tyndall said as the budget came up during Monday’s meeting.  “I know the budgeting process is not fun for any of us but our staff have been very helpful in us getting to a balanced budget for introduction. I want to thank my colleagues on the council for your input as well during our work sessions. This really is a team budget that we have in front of us this evening for adoption.”

Despite the mayor’s opening comments, council members were quick to suggest a variety of changes for the budget.

Councilman Jack Orris said he was hoping the budget could include funding for a new code enforcement position.

Town Administrator Mary Bohlen said the budget included $103,000 for a deputy town administrator position and the plan was to have that individual help the planning department, which would give staff there more time to focus on code enforcement.

“The deputy town administrator position usually takes on special projects,” she said.

Councilman Jay Knerr said the town hadn’t yet submitted a multi-year plan to the Local Development Council regarding slots revenue. Going forward, the town plans to use that revenue to fund enrollment in the Law Enforcement Officers Pension System.

“What we’d discussed was developing a multi-year plan in conjunction with the budget,” Tyndall responded. “We don’t need those funds until December of 2024 so we have some time.”

Councilman Steve Green said he wanted to make sure the town funded the $125,000 the Berlin Fire Company needed for EMS staffing costs. The budget as proposed only included enough $72,500 in funding for that.

“I remember telling them that shift was going to be funded and I don’t think it’s right to drop it down,” he said.

Tyndall said he’d developed the budget based on the revenues the town had.

“The only reason it’s reduced is I have the obligation of submitting a balanced budget,” he said. “I can only work with the revenues that we have.”

Green said he understood that and was proposing cuts to come up with the funding. He suggested cutting an IT server from the budget, which would save nearly $20,000, as well as cutting $20,000 for in-car video for police. He said there was a pending grant that might be able to fund and the chief had said the cameras could wait.

Green also suggested increasing projected revenue from income tax. He said the town had it budgeted at $460,000 but that during the last five years it had averaged about $524,000. He proposed budgeting that revenue stream at $500,000.

With the revenue from that and his proposed cuts, he said the town could fund the EMS staffing as well as a $250 year end payment for employees. The $500 one-time payment they received in the past was not included in the budget presented this week by Tyndall.

Councilman Dean Burrell said he felt the $103,000 salary for a deputy town administrator needed to be discussed.

“I just can’t go along with that,” he said. “I just can’t see it. There’s some folks in this town that have worked years to achieve that level of salary.”

Orris said he thought a figure of about $56,000 would fund a code enforcement position. Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols said she didn’t want to see the town spend more than $70,000 on the new position.

“We do need someone to be of assistance in planning and zoning but I don’t think it needs to be that title,” she said.

The council agreed to reduce the salary for the new position to $70,000 and to incorporate the cuts Green proposed into the budget. A subsequent vote to approve the budget passed 4-1, with Nichols opposed.

Finance Director Natalie Saleh, however, said the council had cut about $40,000 more than needed from the budget after all the changes.

“Why create an excess of revenues?” she said, adding that she’d rather see the cameras or some other item funded. “Why are we cutting so much?”

Orris made a motion to amend the previous budget motion to reincorporate the server and the in-car cameras. That motion passed unanimously.

Green said the council likely deserved some grace, as elected officials hadn’t met in three weeks and the revised budget was just received days before the meeting.

Tyndall said the council did participate in budget work sessions.

“I respect the body’s decision but there is a capability to get some of this addressed in the work session so we can implement a better budget,” Tyndall said.

Knerr pointed out the bulk of the last-minute changes related to the mayor’s changes in the budget made after first reading and the previous budget sessions. Orris added that the document presented to the council Monday wasn’t the same one they’d been shown during work sessions. The council received the mayor’s adjustment to the budget late last week after the county denied the town’s request for EMS funds.

“There’s nothing wrong with discussing this stuff,” Burrell said.

The budget includes a minor tax increase from the current 81.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to the new 82.75 cents.

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.