CRISFIELD — After failing to pass the mayor’s budget on second reader during the regularly-scheduled June meeting the City Council tried again two days later and on a 4-1 vote approved a $4,520,708 revenue and spending plan to be effective July 1.
The total is $20,750 more than the first reader on May 25 and represents a rise in the voluntary trash collection fee which will increase from $12 to $$13.95 per month. Overall the budget is 2.5% more than the FY22 but it leaves unchanged property and business tax rates as well as water and sewer fees, which were both raised last year.
Councilwoman Charlotte Scott at the first reading of the budget said she wanted to see if enough revenue could be set aside to pay for a city manager, a position that’s been vacant for over two years. At the request of Mayor Barry Dize she came up with a proposal which suggested cutting each budget category 5%, and if not, the funding reductions could be less if it paid the salary for a part-time manager.
Ms. Scott said Crisfield needs a city manager and it was “time to bite the bullet” to get the position funded because it takes people “to get things done.”
Mayor Dize said he “didn’t have the appetite” to cut expenses further or raise taxes, and Councilman Casey Goldsborough said to cut expenses would “devastate” the staff members who would seek employment elsewhere. Mr. Dize was also not willing to raise taxes. Both Mr. Goldsborough and Councilman Mike Atkins voted for the budget, but Ms. Scott, Councilman Jimmy Ford and Vice President Eric Banks voted it down, with Mr. Banks saying he wanted to hear more about the proposal, and also see the budget in greater detail.
The budget is an ordinance and once passed is not in effect for 20 days, a time which gives the public an opportunity to petition it to referendum. To have it in place by July 1 the council agreed to meet in a rare Friday evening session June 10.
The latest draft budget was read into the record by Dr. Atkins, who made the motion for its adoption seconded by Mr. Goldsborough. Mr. Banks, attending the meeting by phone, again argued for a more detailed budget presentation, but came around to vote with the majority as did Mr. Ford for a 4-1 vote with Ms. Scott again voting no.
Crisfield’s real property tax rate continues at 87 cents per $100 of assessed value and the business personal property tax rate remains $1.75 per $100. Water and sewer fees inside the city limit are $36.70 and $19.10, respectively, per month up to 4,000 gallons for the second year. Domestic and small business customers who use more than that will see a “commodity charge” of $5 for water and $2.78 for sewer.
Property owners in the Heron Way neighborhood will see their former front foot assessment of $3.25 per foot reduced to 50 cents per foot as debt on the project has been paid off. All others remain at 50 cents per foot, except Hammock Point, which continues to make bond payments and its rate is $3.19 per foot.
City Solicitor Mac Baldwin said ideally the city manager position would be filled but it’s not a violation of the city’s charter when it’s vacant. And Mayor Dize said he has been available full-time since former manager Rick Pollitt resigned, and prior to that under Mayor P.J. Purnell’s administration there was no manager.
While the potential that a budget would be adopted inside the 20-day waiting period was a cause for alarm for city officials, it’s happened before without any repercussions. In June 2017 during Mayor Kim Lawson’s administration the council voted down the second reader when it wanted to not raise taxes to the constant yield yet fund employee raises.
The budget was finally adopted on June 28 of that year, to which then-City Manager Rick Pollitt said, “The state is aware of our delay in adopting a budget, and willing to work with us.”
He added that unlike Congress, the city had no provision to pass a continuing resolution. But on “the practical side” bills and salaried would be paid as usual, and “you won’t notice any difference.”
Ms. Scott was a council member in 2017 when the FY18 budget was rejected, but she voted for the amended version along with council members Erik Emely, Mark Konapelsky and Vice President LaVerne Johnson, with Barbara Ward absent.