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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mayor Strives For Transparency in Budget

George Wenschhof

When I sat down with City of Frederick mayor Randy McClement (R), it marked the last in a series of interviews I had conducted with the mayor and aldermen on the 2013 fiscal year proposed budget.

He told me "transparency is the number one thing he is trying to do" and was pleased he was able to maintain current level of services without raising taxes.   

McClement added information received in a citizen survey along with priorities submitted by aldermen was taken into consideration when he prepared the budget.

Randy also pointed out zero based budgeting which he implemented when he became mayor along with increased projected revenues has helped the city be in a position to address the requests by aldermen while still maintaining a $10 million fund balance.

His number one priority in the budget is to finish the final phase of Carroll Creek and to move forward on the development of a downtown hotel/conference center.  The Mayor said "economic development for the city has always been his goal, and not just downtown". 

McClement added "Phase 1 of Carroll Creek had stimulated the downtown".  McClement felt moving ahead with the estimated $12-13 million final phase of Carroll Creek was also necessary to avoid the city losing a $3 million state grant for the project.  The city portion of the overall funding would most likely be financed through a municipal bond.

He mentioned many of the priorities requested by aldermen were addressed in the budget, including, but not limited to; five additional police officers, street repair, a part-time code enforcement officer and a city liquor inspector.

The mayor added this will be the first budget the city will use a tax differential system, resulting in a four cent reduction to city taxpayers.

With debt service being a significant portion of the overall city budget, we discussed some of the troublesome areas.

In regard to the underfunded Other Post Employees Benefit (OPEB) and Pension programs, the mayor said he had appointed committees to review.  While, he did not give them a timeline, he did stress due diligence to the members and noted they were meeting bi-monthly.  The committees will recommend changes in benefits as well as investment strategies.

As to Alderman Karen Young (D) not being happy with the slow pace the city had taken in addressing this problem, McClement said "they had different styles".

The receipt of $13.6 million federal grant to repay the city for airport expansion construction has proven elusive and will once again not be received in this budget year.  The city was unable to meet grant requirements calling for the city to be receiving market rates from all hangers at the airport; one of which was with the state police.

The mayor expressed his disappointment in failing to meet the federal requirements, adding the disbursement of the grant has now also changed from one full payment to phased in payments to the city.

The city purchase of Hargett farm for use of a park by the former Holtzinger administration has also saddled the city with a sizable debt and the mayor indicated options were limited to the city in regard to this property. 

McClement indicated they had done some research on what could be done with the property and had found the previous administration bonding mechanism and a portion of the land being designated "project open space", restricted city options.

Another debt weighing down the city coffers is the $1.5 million annual fee to the county for the right to use water when the city is not using it.  This was also agreed to by the former Holtzinger administration.  The mayor indicated they were negotiating this fee with the county, but had not reached an agreement.

As time was running out, we did not discuss in depth the unfunded $54 million mandate by the state on improvements to the waste water treatment plant, which are to be done by 2025.

Again, McClement expressed frustration and hoped negotiations and state funding would reduce the city financial obligation.

The mayor and board plan to adopt the budget and set the tax rate on May 17.

Below are the remaining scheduled public meeting dates on the budget.  They will be televised on local channel 99 and can also be viewed online

April 25th – 7:00 p.m.
Economic Development
Weinberg Center
Community Action Agency

May 2nd – 7:00 p.m.
Parks & Recreation
Capital Improvements Program (CIP)

May 9th – 7:00 p.m.
Mayor’s Office
Human Resources


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