After an unprecedented planning process, and facing millions of dollars in declining revenues from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis, Frederick’s aldermen approved a budget Thursday night that took into consideration the financial uncertainty the city faces.
The fiscal 2021 budget that the five aldermen unanimously approved cut about $5 million from the $105 million spending plan proposed by Mayor Michael O’Connor more than a month ago, which contained money for areas such as police, economic development, public works and parks and recreation.
But that document was developed before the on-set of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and the mayor and aldermen’s discussions in recent weeks revolved around how to cut spending without decimating help to the city’s most vulnerable residents.
Ultimately, the cuts included eliminating a new traffic engineer position, a new assistant to the theatre manager, removing more than $863,000 in employee merit increases and salary adjustments, $1,885,000 in miscellaneous departmental reductions, and more than $2.2 million in cuts to the capital improvement program and other transfers.
During the budget discussions, Director of Budget and Purchasing Katie Barkdoll projected revenue losses of just under $3 million in the current fiscal year, which ends at the end of June, and a $5.5 million decrease in fiscal 2021, which begins July 1.
The budget keeps the city’s property tax rate at $0.73 per $100 of assessed value for real property, and $1.55 cents for every $100 on business property.
Thursday’s vote took place during a virtual meeting with the mayor and aldemen each logging in from their homes, a symbol of the disruptive force that the coronavirus has brought to the city’s work.
O’Connor thanked Barkdoll, the city staff, and department managers for their work to put the budget together.
When the process began, “no one expected that we would be here, tonight, this way, doing this,” O’Connor said.
The next 12 months will be very uncertain, as they try to see what the city’s long-term financial outlook will be, he said.
Alderwoman Kelly Russell thanked O’Connor and the city staff for the “yeoman’s job” they did assembling the budget during such uncertain times.
Alderman Roger Wilson agreed, adding, “this was a tough year, and you did it very well.”
Alderman Derek Shackelford referenced the funding cuts, saying that despite the tough choices that had to be made, the budget meets the needs of the city.