Day’s budget seeks tax cut for residents

In just his second budget as mayor, Jake Day is proposing sweeping changes to the city’s employee structure, its permitting performance and urban planning processes, all while cutting taxes for resident-homeowners.

Under the fiscal 2018 budget that takes effect July 1, taxes would increase for landlord-owned properties, but business taxes would be reduced.

Splitting the property tax rate for owner-occupied homes and properties that act as business is new for Salisbury but common across Maryland municipalities. Intended to encourage home ownership in the city, the tax structure is already used in Pocomoke City.

The spending plan totals $58.8 million, with $26.4 million in property tax revenues as the primary cash source. The budget keeps total spending virtually flat, with a less that a 0.49 percent increase.

As is normal, Public Safety is the largest spending category, at $24.4 million.

In the current fiscal year budget, a Constant Yield tax increase of just under a penny was implemented, setting the current rate at $0.9432 per $100 of assessed value.

For the upcoming year, the property tax rate for city homeowners would be $0.90 per $100 of assessed value and $1.06 for landlord-owned properties.

Even though the tax decrease affects resident-owned properties, it could still be counted as the first property tax cut in the city’s history.

In his budget message, Day said the city is seeing modest increases in property taxes, due mostly to annexation and new construction. “We believe our continued growth positions us to strategically cut certain taxes,” he said. This budget “must critically assess all taxes and fees to ensure that fees pay for the services they fund.

“We must also ensure that our fees and taxes are structured in such a way that they encourage people to move or keep their homes and businesses in Salisbury,” Day said.

Homeowner property tax rates have been cut to 6.7 percent lower than 2015 levels. The business tax cuts bring rates below 2008 levels.

Day said favoring resident taxpayers fits the overall mission; he called it “a furtherance in our asserted goal to increase home ownership in Salisbury.”

The water and sewer portion of the budget contains fee increases for both residential and commercial uses.

The minimum charge per quarter for for residential and small commercial users will increase to $22.87 per quarter from the current $19.89.

Commercial customer that now pay $372.17 per quarter would instead pay $427.99.

Rates for county residents who are tapped into city water and sewer would also rise. Those residents have long paid about double what city taxpayers are charged, and their rates would increase proportionally.

Those who commute into the city or into Downtown will be asked to pay higher parking permit fees. Meter rates will remain flat, but parking permit fees are going up $5 per month, with most lots either $40 or $35 per month.

Day’s leadership objectives are reflected from top to bottom within the spending plan. The biggest changes to the city’s structure are ones most people might not see, but will help the city attract business, deal with developers and streamline procedures for anyone who either wants to do more business in Salisbury or play a larger business role in its growth and progress.

Day’s plan would:

  • Create a one-stop development and plan review shop, streamlining four departments to one.
  • Assign the city’s Procurement Officer to the Executive Department.
  • Adds an Assistant City Administrator to chain of command; the city will hire for position.
  • Creates a team of city employees who will be responsible for “keeping the city polished and clean.”
  • Aligns departments with the various employees’ areas of expertise.

Said the mayor: “This budget continues our investment in our youth, our care for the homeless, our rejuvenation of the economy, our commitment to safety and neighborhood integrity.”

The Fiscal 2018 plan Includes money for:

  • North Prong Park. This redevelopment projects centers on the Sakap Property on Cypress Street (the George L. Ralph Oil Co. site) on the West Prong. The tract would be the site of a park and recreation area.
  • Gateway Signage. This in an ongoing project to replace the city’s four entry-way signs on Routes 50 and 13. Two signs were funded this year; the signs will be installed by end of FY 2018
  • Riverwalk Amphitheater. A project that has been discussed for decades, this 750-person amphitheater would be built on the hillside near La Quinta Hotel on the Riverwalk, making a premier music and performance venue for Downtown.
  • City Park Plan. The budget calls for completion of a long list of improvements, including landscaping, new benches and trash cans, recycling bins, lighting, holiday-lights-related improvements and major improvements to Picnic Island.
  • Jasmine Drive. Completion of the north-south Jasmine Drive near Mill Pond Village, to serve as a “reliever road” to address Route 13 congestion.
  • Zoo Administration Building & Fencing. The Zoo Master Plan will begin, with a beautification plan for fencing at the facility, as well as enter the design phase for a new administration building.
  • Riverside Circle. The big enchilada with the potential to change the face of the city, the planning phase for the circle at Camden, Riverside, Mill and Carroll was accomplished this budget year, receiving full affirmation by SHA. The traffic circle will be engineered in the proposed budget.
  • Waterside Park. The waterfront park on the city’s West Side will see the addition of a gazebo, landscaping improvements, a sports field, fencing upgrades, a community garden and parking lot improvements.
  • Riverwalk & Urban Greenway. Riverwalk lighting, signage, landscaping and streetscaping will be completed this budget year.
  • North-South Bike Trail. The city’s Bicycle Master Plan Phase 1 includes the trail that runs parallel to the train tracks. Engineering for section from old train station to Tony Tank will be completed in fiscal 2018.

The proposed budget creates five new departments and eliminates four, which Day said will improve efficiency. “Our organizational structure is a dinosaur,” he declared.

Under the spending plan, the seven major city departments will be:

  • Police — Chief Barbara Duncan — Patrol, criminal investigation, special operations, parking enforcement.
  • Fire — Chief Rick Hoppes — Firefighting, emergency medicine, fire marshal.
  • Housing & Community Development — Susan Phillips —  Homelessness reduction, Community Development, Housing & Building Code Enforcement.
  • Infrastructure & Development — Amanda Pollack — Engineering, Urban Planning, Planning Permitting, Site Development Permitting, Building Construction Inspection, Fire Plan Review.
  • Water Works — Mike Moulds — Water and sewer utilities, water treatment, wastewater treatment.
  • Field Operations — Tom Stevenson — City garage, materials management, carpentry, Salisbury Zoo, city parks, Salisbury Marina, streets and lighting, and traffic.
  • Finances — Keith Cordrey — Accounting, pay operations, parking permitting for the city’s parking garage and permit lots.

Budget notes:

  • Day is expecting $1.1 million in “school zone fines,” which used to be labeled in the budget as speed cameras. The city haul in that column was $1.35 million in each of the last two years.
  • The budget makes clear Day’s desire to have a new city hall. An action-point labeled “Municipal Building Priority” says the city will “identify location/building where all civilian employees can work in the same space by 2020.” The county would also like the city to vacate the Government Office Building, which they have shared since its construction.
  • The city is expecting about $1.060 million from county in Fire and Emergency Services.
  • The city has 430 employees and 34,121 residents.

 

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

As your community newspaper, we are committed to making Salisbury a better place. You can help support our mission by making a voluntary contribution to the newspaper.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment