Cambridge commissioners plan for the future (and how to pay for it)

CAMBRIDGE — The Ins and Outs of government … that was the purpose of the morning work session of the Cambridge City Council on Tuesday morning. Four commissioners and the city manager met at City Hall to examine how much money will be coming In, and where it will go when it goes Out. Prioritized projects and regular responsibilities cost money, and grants, taxes, and cost savings must sometimes suffice to cover those expenses.

City Manager Sandra Tripp-Jones began with salaries. She suggested across-the-board raises for the city staff in a range of 2 percent. Commissioner Donald Sydnor suggested that percentages for the lowest paid workers be higher than the percentages for the higher paid worker. All the commissioners seemed to support that idea because some city workers have to supplement their incomes with food stamps or second jobs. Commissioner Sydnor recalls that city workers were furloughed, paid their own insurance, and received no raises when the city itself was in a dire financial situation and they saw the city through those difficult years. City Manager Tripp-Jones suggested that field staff, for example trash collectors, should get raises because their salaries lag behind other cities on the Eastern Shore.

Cambridge is committed to several expensive capital projects. A large expenditure is resurfacing the 300 Block of High Street. Public Works Director Oden Wheeler said that if work begins on that street, the city may find the infrastructure of the 100 and 200 blocks is also involved, so they cannot overlook the possibility of needing a great deal more money that wasn’t budgeted.

How about Sailwinds wharf repair, a high priority project? Funds must be budgeted for the first stages of planning and securing the funds needed for a matching funds requirement by granters.

Additionally, a well run municipality requires a reserve for unforeseen problems and the goal figure for Cambridge is $200,000. And there are more. Like the blighted area project, a new firetruck, and unforeseen needs.

When the funds going Out are greater than the monies coming In, one has to search for Ins in new economies and money. Chet McWilliams, who handles insurance plans for the employees of Cambridge, a self-insured entity, unveiled a new direction that would bring substantial savings through a maneuver involving the retirees who are insured after retirement.

Mr. McWilliams has suggested that buying policies for retirees through AARP Insurance would produce a savings of $30,000 and not harm the individuals involved. That’s a start, but unfortunately, the council must consider some increase, perhaps in trash collection, perhaps in property taxes. The property tax increase quoted at the meeting by Finance Director Ginger Heatwole is one cent. On a $200,000 house, the increase would be $20. All those pennies would yield $70,000 in new revenue. An increase in trash fees of $1 a month would produce $58,000 more. A good source of income used to be speed reduction cameras, about $115,000, but the grumble that produced when announced did not bode well for the return of the speed cameras.

The council will discuss the Ins and Outs of the budget, with some items requiring public hearings. One can only hope that some of the projects still in the planning stages will come online soon to pay taxes. The city will be able to be out of the red and in the black.

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