CHESTERTOWN — The vote on Chestertown’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year came in the quiet after a storm of protest Monday night.
Only about a dozen residents were still hanging around at 9 p.m. when the council unanimously adopted the spending plan for fiscal year 2020 that includes a 1-cent tax increase.
Also noteworthy: the curbside recycling program was put back into the budget after some last-minute financial maneuvering.
Curbside recycling was on the chopping block as the town sought ways to balance its $4 million budget.
Unhappy with the possible loss of that service, town residents filled every seat for Monday’s 7 p.m. public hearing in the second-floor meeting room.
The 30-minute comment period lasted more than an hour, with community members talking about the importance of recycling for both the environment and the reputation of Chestertown as a forward-thinking, ecologically conscious town.
Mayor Chris Cerino and the four council members agreed with the speakers, but acknowledged they had to be fiscally prudent.
According to the latest draft budget, revenues came in at nearly $4.03 million against almost $3.9 million in planned expenditures. That left a total of $148,991 in excess revenue. But when $91,500 in annual principal for a loan on the Port of Chestertown Marina is factored in, the surplus dropped to $57,491.
There didn’t seem to be enough money for curbside recycling — estimated to be $68,000 — without further increasing the property tax or cutting something else.
Until, that is, Ford Schumann of Infinity Recycling, the longtime provider, offered to meet the town in the middle.
Instead of charging the town per household, Schumann said Infinity would charge the town a monthly lump sum. He said this would save the town about $6,000 a year.
“This is as far as we can go without hurting ourselves,” Schumann said, noting that the market for recyclables has shrunk and that the Town of Chestertown accounts for about 25 percent of Infinity’s business.
That lessened the shortfall to about $6,000.
As the public hearing was drawing to a close, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said, “I think we’re close enough to make the adjustment.”
During the regular portion of the council meeting, Ingersoll suggested the town take $6,000 from its Health Reimbursement Account — money put aside each year for the employees — to make up the balance.
“It’s money that we budget annually and historically we have never gone through 80 percent of it,” he said.
The budget was passed unanimously based on the 1-cent tax increase, a commitment from Infinity to shave its costs by $6,000 and moving over $6,000 from the HRA.
The budget goes into effect July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
The two largest line items are public safety ($1.7 million, 43 percent) and public works ($1.1 million, 29 percent). General government at $556,701 accounts for 14 percent of the town’s expenditures.
Last year, the council approved a 5-cent increase to the property tax rate, bringing it to 42 cents for every $100 of assessed value. The additional 1-cent increase is just shy of the state-recommended constant yield.
With assessments down, the town would see less property tax revenue unless it adopted the state-recommended rate that ensures the same revenue — the constant yield — as the previous year.
At the request of the council, Ingersoll said there would be quarterly updates on the town’s finances.
“I was surprised by the shortfall” after taxes were raised last year, said Councilman David Foster, who asked for the quarterly updates.
Moving forward, Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver said he would like the town to look into a solid waste program as a way to lessen trash and recycling expenses.