Millington proposes no fee increases for fiscal year 2021

Millington Mayor C.J. Morales, left, swears in council members Wayne Starkey and Michelle Holland during the regular council meeting May 12. This is the second term for Starkey and the third for Holland. Council terms are for three years. Starkey and Holland were re-elected without contest in March.

MILLINGTON — There are no increases in utility rates and general fees and the property tax will remain the same in the spending plan for fiscal year 2021 that the mayor and council here on May 12 introduced as a resolution.

This a change in course for Millington officials who were poised to raise rates before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the local and global economies spiraling downward.

Town Administrator Jo Manning in March drafted a budget that showed an increase in revenue, built on a 1% hike in property taxes and an increase in water and sewer fees.

The council was to discuss the changes and review permit fees at its regularly scheduled meeting in April and then adopt the spending plan in May, following a public hearing.

But there was no meeting in April due to Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive orders that effectively shut down the state, and by the time Millington officials met last week, Manning said she had received guidance from the governor’s office that this was not the time to raise taxes.

“The budget I presented in March allowed for an increase in fees and taxes,” Manning wrote in an email Monday, May 18. “Once the state went into shutdown and predictions showed a decrease in the monies to be received by each municipality and county due to a decrease in personal income, business income, etc., I revamped the numbers to remove the tax and fee increase as well as a decrease in the overall income,” she said.

The property tax rate is remaining at 27.7 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Also, after going behind closed doors to discuss personnel, the mayor and council in open session May 12 voted to freeze salaries.

The public was able to participate in the May 12 meeting by calling in, while Town Administrator Manning, Mayor C.J. Morales and council members Kevin Hemstock, Eli Manning, Wayne Starkey and Michelle Holland — observing social distancing — attended the meeting in person in town hall.

In a follow-up telephone interview Friday, May 15, Jo Manning said after the novel coronavirus outbreak, she redid the budget, dialing back revenues to the level of the current budget. She also figured in an increase in expenses by 3% from FY20.

This means there is less income than initially was projected, while costs continue to rise.

Jo Manning said the decrease in income creates a negative end result, “more negative than the small increase in fees and taxes earlier predicted.”

A public hearing on the budget will be held at the regularly scheduled monthly meeting June 9. The public can call in with comments. Instructions on how to do that are posted on the town’s website.

The new fiscal year begins July 1.

By unanimous vote May 12, the mayor and council supported a general fund budget that shows a surplus of $29,718 — projected revenues totaling $234,219 coming in higher than projected expenses of $204,500.

The utility budget shows expenditures topping revenues by $70,218.

Expenses total $436,420. They include $10,000 for cleaning of the water tower, $20,000 for replacement of a PLC unit at the sewer plant and $50,000 as the estimated cost of water main repairs.

In Friday’s telephone interview, Manning said the general fund is an option to help make up the deficit in the utility budget.

“We’ll carefully watch expenses and cut everything we can, and if we have to use the general fund, we will,” she said.

The town also will “eliminate unnecessary spending,” Manning said. This includes delaying park projects, maintenance projects and utility projects as they require 25% of the total cost to be paid by the municipality. “If we’re working at a deficit, that’s not possible,” she said.

Among the projects on hold are a dog park on about a half-acre of land near the sewer plant in the Queen Anne’s County portion of the town; transforming the former Quaker burial grounds into a small park; and adding a soccer field and basketball court at Robvanary Park.

The senior housing project has been put on pause. April’s kickoff meeting for funding agencies, the developer and town officials — among others — was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the outbreak, the town was looking to break ground in the spring of 2021 with construction expected to take about a year.

Now, Manning said she couldn’t guess when the $4 million project would get off the ground.

The town has been working with Home Partnership Inc., a nonprofit headquartered in Joppatowne, for several years on the housing project that would include four apartment buildings, each with five units, and a community center.

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