A property tax increase and a suspension of curbside recycling are being considered by the Chestertown council in its draft budget for Fiscal Year 2020, introduced at the May 20 council meeting.
The draft, produced in two workshop sessions, proposes a $0.01 increase per $100 assessed value in the town’s property tax rate, resulting in roughly $57,000 of additional revenue. This would keep the revenue from property taxes level in response to a decrease in assessed value in the commercial sector. The town raised taxes $0.05 last year, from $0.37 to $0.42 per $100. This year’s raise is consistent with the state’s Constant Yield Tax Rate standard.
Mayor Chris Cerino said the suspension of recycling could be avoided if Kent County decides to restore the tax rebate it provided to the local towns until 2014. That year, it provided the five towns a total of $193,000 to cover services such as police protection, planning and zoning, water and sewer, and street repairs that the county provides in rural areas but not in the towns.
Curbside recycling, provided by Infinity Recycling, had an estimated cost of $68,000 for the fiscal year. The town has offered curbside recycling since 2010, when Kent County dropped its similar program. The two-stream program asked customers to separate containers (glass and plastic bottles and metal cans) from paper and cardboard. According to Ford Schumann, founder and president of Infinity Recycling, this provides a cleaner and more marketable product than the cheaper single-stream recycling, which some municipalities offer. Town residents will still be able to take their recycling to the county recycling centers, the closest of which is on Worton Road across from Worton Park. There is no charge for recycling dropoff.
Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, introducing the budget bill, said there will be a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. June 3, preceding the regular council meeting. Copies of the draft budget are available at Town Hall. The two biggest components of the budget, public safety ($1.7 million) and public works ($1.2 million), remain essentially flat; general government, including salaries and office expenses, is up by approximately $25,000 at $556,020.
The single largest decrease in expenses is in capital outlays, which at $228,000 is some $3 million below FY 2019. This is primarily due to completion of renovations to the marina, and is matched by a decrease in revenues representing the state and federal grants used for that project. The remaining capital projects, primarily renovations to the Washington Park playground, are also funded by grants and do not add to the town’s tax burden.
The decisions to increase the tax rate and to discontinue recycling were made at a May 14 workshop meeting, in response to a projected shortfall of about $65,000. The suggestion to cut recycling was made by Councilman Marty Stetson, who observed that the town’s recycling program is included in figures provided by the county to meet its state-mandated target of 15% recycling. He said the loss of the town’s contribution to that mandate could put pressure on the county to restore the tax differential so it could continue recycling.
At that workshop meeting, Ingersoll expressed a reluctance to end the recycling program, saying he preferred going to a twice-monthly pickup from another contractor for a smaller savings, roughly $17,000. However, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper agreed with Stetson that it was more important to balance the budget. Cerino said he did not like cutting recycling, but he would rather do that than lay off any employees.
Other issues addressed at the May 14 workshop included overtime pay for employees working Saturdays and special events. It was suggested that employees assigned to weekends or special events take time off during the week to avoid overtime. Ingersoll said he felt that not giving raises was placing enough of a burden on employees without further changes in pay policy.
Town Financial Director Amanda Miller said the town might already face the possible loss of some employees because of the lack of raises.
Stetson said at the end of the May 20 meeting that the council had taken its budget responsibilities very seriously. “Nobody wanted to cut anything, but we have to live within our means,” he said; “Hopefully better days are coming.” Stetson said he spoke to the county commissioners at a recent Council of Government meeting, asking them to restore a tax differential for the towns, but received a noncommittal answer.
Summarizing the overall budget, Ingersoll said, “We do not have any raises, we do not have any capital improvements in this budget.” He added, “We’ve looked at everything, really,” including the possibility of staff cuts. “I know it’s been painful for all involved, but that’s what we know now.” He said the budget remains subject to revision up until it is enacted at the June 3 meeting.
Also at the May 20 meeting, Cerino read a proclamation recognizing John Hanley for 10 years as chairman of the Environmental Committee. He designated May 16 retroactively as John Hanley Day in Chestertown.
Hanley said he had enjoyed his time on the committee, and thanked the Mayor and council for their support. He said the committee was “blessed” to have enthusiastic and hard-working team members, and promised they would continue their efforts on behalf of the town. He said he is continuing to seek ways to provide power stations for recharging electric cars, which he said would attract additional tourists from out of town.
Cerino announced that students from Kent School will be installing a nesting box for wood ducks in Gateway Park, which is adjacent to Radcliffe Creek as it crosses High Street. The installation is part of a project sponsored by Sultana Education Foundation in which 7th-grade students in all schools studied the Radcliffe Creek watershed and its ecology.