Westminster property tax rise proposed

Officers disapprove of police pension plan

April 23, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

The Westminster Common Council unveiled last night a proposed $21.9 million spending plan for fiscal 2003 that calls for a 4.8-cent increase in the property tax rate - the city's first increase in five years.

"It's a pretty responsible budget that does two things - it tries to meet the city's current need to provide services and it also tries to look to the future for other needs," said Councilman L. Gregory Pecoraro, chairman of the council's finance committee, which drafted the proposed budget.

In another money-related matter, the council introduced last night an ordinance creating a pension enhancement plan for the city's 43 police officers.

Concern for adequate room in case of a large turnout by police officers prompted the council to move the meeting to a hearing room at the County Office Building. More than half the force showed up.

The proposed 2003 budget, which includes monies for the water and sewer funds as well as building projects, is up $4.6 million from the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Pecoraro said more than half of the money is earmarked for construction of the Longwell Avenue parking deck.

Under the spending plan, city employees will receive a 1 percent cost-of-living raise. This year employees received a 2.5 percent raise, plus $240.

While water and sewer rates will remain the same, the property tax will increase 4.8 cents to 40 cents per $100 of assessed value. The average Westminster home has an assessed value of $125,000 and the homeowner pays $440 in property taxes each year. That will increase to $500 next year.

Pecoraro said the increase could provide the city with about $500,000 in additional revenue.

A public hearing on the proposed budget and tax increase will be held May 6. The council could take action on the proposals as early as May 13.

Local police officers - and several supporters from the Annapolis Police Department - showed up to voice their disapproval of the proposed supplemental retirement plan for the Police Department.

At a cost of $125,000 a year, the city would deposit the equivalent of 5 percent to 9 percent - depending on years of service - of an officer's annual salary into an account similar to a savings plan.

The Westminster Police Association, Local 84, released a statement at the end of the meeting outlining its opposition to the plan.

The organization questioned the viability of the plan to retain officers because its five years' vesting gives officers an excuse to quit in favor of employment by a police department offering the kind of plan they want - a 25-year retirement threshold and 50 percent guaranteed payback.

"Now is the time for the City Council to begin taking care of the employees that take care of the city and keep it running," the statement read.

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