ELKTON — With slight adjustments and frank discussions on the Elkton armory, the town Board of Commissioners approved its Fiscal Year 2020 budget Wednesday night.
The $17.1 million spending plan has no tax increases, but raises trash collection to $32.50 per quarter. Property taxes remain at 63.56 cents per $100 of assessed value, while personal property taxes, applied to business-related equipment, will remain at $1.21 per hundred.
In the last few weeks, Elkton officials were able to find $13,000 in savings. Before the town employees’ health care plan was set to increase 5%, but the town raised its deductible and staved off the increase. Elkton also changed the town employee dental plan, saving $10,000.
Still, that left little wiggle room as the town reckons with buying the LTC James Victor McCool Armory, building a community center, and addressing slow development growth along with a forecasted economic downturn. The FY 2020 budget will freeze hiring and raises for non-public safety staff, and draw most of what’s left of the town savings to balance spending.
After the budget was passed, Mayor Rob Alt turned to the high-profile items within it: the $3.45 million recreation center on Booth Street and $275,000 for the Elkton armory.
The board has yet to come to a clear consensus on what to do with the Elkton armory. With the FY 2020 budget, the town could have two buildings that could serve as event and recreation venues in the near future.
Alt has repeatedly cautioned the board that with the Booth Street neighborhood community center, the town needs to expand programs to make it worthwhile. This week, the town’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board issued a report that explores just that.
“There’s some eye-opening points that I think the board really needs to digest,” he said Wednesday night.
Early suggestions include having the Booth Street neighborhood community center open on set hours on weekdays and on a as-rented basis for weekends, and having three staff members run it. It was apparently recommended the town start expanding programs now.
The town Department of Parks and Recreation currently has two full-time staff members, including its director Mary Magaw. Like all other additional staff requests, Magaw did not receive a requested new staff member in the FY 2020 budget.
Looking at these options, Alt predicted turning the Elkton armory into a recreation center would see the same staffing numbers, and was unsure how the town could pull it off.
Although Elkton is just starting the process to buy the armory, the mayor urged the board to consider leasing it to the National Fire Heritage Center, a national archive for historic documents and other perishables related to fire protection history currently based in Emmitsburg that has expressed interest in the armory.
“I think that organization could bring in 40,000 to 60,000 people into our town a year, and that would very possibly show a need for another hotel and another restaurant to the area,” he said.
Alt added that if it came down to his vote, he would cast it for the NFHC. The challenges that come with using the armory for the recreation center can be seen with the Bel Air armory, he said, which has yet to cover operating expenses with rental fees.
“I already know how much our community center is going to add to the expenditure side. I don’t know how we could handle both buildings,” he said.
Commissioner Rob Massimiano said he was “with him on that,” although Commissioner Earl Piner was hesitant to give up the chance to move some recreation programs there.
“Even now in the summer, we have no place for kids to go, and this building is already ready to go,” Piner said. “This would be a nice backup for the community center, and it’s also a historical place.”
Commissioner Charles Givens warned that the Elkton armory has never been retrofitted for children’s activities, and does not include air conditioning.
“It’s a nice space, and that’s what you need a lot of the time, but there’s some work to be done. You don’t want them in a hot building,” he said. “ I guess there’s some things that can be done to accommodate them just temporarily.”
Commissioner Jean Broomell was absent for the meeting.
It’s hopeful that Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development grants could mitigate the armory’s cost. The board approved a resolution Wednesday that supported seeking MDHC Strategic Demolition Grant for the full amount.
But Alt said that doesn’t cover any retrofits needed to safely operate the armory as a recreation center. He didn’t present any figures, but said it would cost “quite a bit.”
“Just give it some thought,” Alt told the board. “If it’s a direction we wanted to go in, I think [the NFHC] is chomping at the bit to be in there.”
It’s still a long way to go before the town has to decide on what to do with the Elkton armory, since the town is just starting the process.
Elkton hopes to have the Booth Street neighborhood community center open next summer. The commissioners are set to discuss the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board’s report at the June 12 work session.