Cecil County Budget: Commissioners Spread Pain/ Cecil Times Special Report

April 28, 2011

The Cecil County Commissioners have drafted a Fiscal 2012 budget that would cut county public schools by $1.2 million, slash 4 percent off the county libraries’ budget, slice 3 percent from Cecil College funds, and force the county Sheriff’s office to absorb over $700,000 in lost state aid for work-release prisoners at the jail.

In interviews with The Cecil Times, participants in the closed-door discussions Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as representatives of county departments affected by the budget cuts, described the process and the impact the proposals would have on county services. In general, the Commissioners decided to “nick” most programs and departments to spread out the “pain” of a difficult budget year.

But some departments, especially the county public schools, feel they got “nicked” more than others proportionately, despite proposing frugal budgets to the Commissioners.

The Commissioners had to bridge a roughly $9 million gap between revenues and proposed expenditures, with their discussions predicated upon a resolve to keep the property tax rate at the “constant yield” level to avoid tax increases. The commissioners held to that pledge, by cutting about $8 million from spending and tapping $1 million from county reserve funds, sources said.

But due to declining property values, the “constant yield” level—to keep the same amount of revenues from property taxes to the county next year as in the current fiscal year—the property tax rate would rise slightly, from the current .9153 cents per $100 of assessed property value to .9451 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Depending upon an individual property’s current state property tax assessment, actual tax bills could go down or rise slightly.

The actual budget deliberations were more civil than might have been expected, according to multiple sources, given that the County Commissioners have been frequently divided on a 3-2 voting pattern since two new members took office after the November 2010 elections.

The only heavily political moments on the all-Republican board came when new Commissioner Michael Dunn (R- 3) offered a partisan riff, asserting that as Republicans, the board members should steadfastly oppose any fee increases for customers in the Seneca Point wastewater service area, regardless of the costs involved in providing services to area residents. Dunn was mostly silent on other budget issues, sources said.

But the 3-2 voting bloc came to the forefront in decisions on the Cecil County public schools budget. A majority—consisting of James Mullin (R-1), Diana Broomell (R-4) and Dunn—decided to cut the schools budget by $1.2 million, yielding the bare minimum required to comply with state “maintenance of effort” requirements. Commissioners Robert Hodge (R-5) and Tari Moore (R-2) dissented.

That decision was a rejection of a recommendation by a citizens’ budget advisory panel, which advocated cutting the schools budget by $1 million—or giving $200,000 more than the Commissioners granted. (See previous Cecil Times report here:

County schools sources criticized the commissioners’ decision, telling Cecil Times that the cuts were in fact below “maintenance of effort’ level funding because in the final hours of the General Assembly, legislators decided to dump $317,000 in costs on to Cecil County schools to cover “administrative costs” for teacher pensions. As a result of the county proposals, the schools will have to cut staff positions or take other drastic steps, schools sources said, on top of already presenting a bare bones budget that included staff reductions and layoffs. (See previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2011/01/commissioners-seek-budget-guidance-from-citizens-but-dont-give-any-to-schools/

In fact, the county schools issued layoff notices to more than 40 currently employed personnel on Wednesday, sources said, based on the budget proposal submitted to the county. It was unclear if the schools would consider additional layoff notices in light of the county Commissioners’ new budget reductions.

“I don’t think the schools can go any further,” said a county schools source. In addition, the schools are facing significant new cuts in federal aid, especially for career and technology education under new budget cuts adopted in the past few weeks by Congress. Nearly $300,000 in federal aid to Cecil County for vo-tech education is expected to be cut under several programs, sources said.

County Commissioners killed a proposed new four-year tech school last year in the capital improvement budget, and there is no current plan to build such a facility. County students now have limited, part-time access to vo-tech or career education services.

County Commissioner sources said that advocates of the county schools have been very active in sending emails and calling commissioners to support the schools.

Meanwhile, the county Commissioners took a more conservative position than the previous county board on tapping “reserve funds” to bridge the gap between needed spending and available revenues. The new Fiscal 2012 budget proposal would tap those reserve funds by $1 million, in contrast to the current Fiscal 2011 budget that raided the reserve/emergency funds by nearly $2.7 million, sources said.

Commissioner Moore said she strongly advocated a cautious policy about tapping into “reserve” or “unallocated” funds to meet day-to-day expenses because of what she has seen, as a Board member of the Maryland Association of Counties (MAACO), as the likely fiscal future of Maryland.

“It is not prudent,” she said, to raid such emergency funds when it is highly likely that the next legislative session in Annapolis will dump more costs on the counties. She said she took a “hard line” on holding some reserve funds back from this year’s county budget process because the prospects for massive shifts of costs from the state to the county are likely next year.

In other budget decisions, the Commissioners offered a slap on the wrists to the county Sheriff’s office, cutting about $700,000 that is roughly the same figure as the loss of state aid to the “CARC” (Community Adult Rehabilitation Center) unit of the local jail. The state eliminated that aid for future budgets. (See previous Cecil Times news report on CARC funds losses here:


But sources said the Commissioners were annoyed that the Sheriff’s department had not made other cuts in programs or expenses to compensate for that loss of funds. As a result, the Commissioners decided to pass on that loss of state funds to the Sheriff, with the department having to decide how to compensate for that loss of funds.

“We’re not going to be the Sugar Daddy for the Sheriff,” one Commissioner said.

[UPDATE: The Cecil County Sheriff and his senior staff will meet with the County Commissioners on Tuesday, to discuss the budget. After reviewing the proposed budget, the Sheriff’s Department is “going to regroup,” according to Major Jeff Clewer, who is in charge of the Community Corrections/Detention Center. The jail was a source of budget concern among the Commissioners.

“We will present some additional recommendations,” Clewer told Cecil Times. But whatever possible revisions may be proposed, they will “Not compromise our service, security and safety” duties to citizens, he said.]

In other budget decisions, the Commissioners cut $50,000 plus an equal amount for a staff position from the county Economic Development office. Sources described a proposal, advocated by Broomell and Mullin during the budget talks, to create an unspecified “regional” economic development position, without specifying how to fund it, for a politically well-connected Republican aligned with state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36).

The county budget office has posted a detailed line item budget proposal on the country website here:


Commissioner Hodge noted that the proposed county budget proposals are just that: proposals. A public hearing will be held on May 10 and commissioners will consider citizen input before making any final budget decisions.

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5 Responses to Cecil County Budget: Commissioners Spread Pain/ Cecil Times Special Report

  1. Laurence Watkins on April 29, 2011 at 9:41 am

    So it’s official — Cecil County would rather eat its young than take one cent more in property taxes.

  2. Al Reasin on April 29, 2011 at 10:29 am

    While I don’t have numbers, we have seen the cost per student increase across our county while students seem to be less educated, from anecdotal observations and studies. The schools seem to offer more, but educate less, but in the meantime require more highly paid management personnel; thus the back to basics cry may have some validity.

    The school administration complains about the cuts, yet those of us who have been around a few years see expensive bus transportation provided to students living in areas that in my day walked to the same schools. Transportation, sometimes taxi service, is provided for the students from homeless families to their home schools even if they are out-of-district. There is even a rumor that students who have been expelled or suspended for long periods of time have been provided home schooling paid by the county. I know that reasons can always be found to justify such actions and the many other ones that may exist, but I did not think it was government’s responsibility to provide the very best of services, when providing necessary services are in order. …

    Frankly as a culture we spend too much money and efforts to help people who won’t help themselves; now that we can’t afford to, those we have helped in the past have forgotten how to do for themselves. The unintended consequences of spoiling ourselves have caught up with us.

    • The Chimp on May 1, 2011 at 5:21 pm

      Mr. Reasin, respectfully I say to you, have you lost your mind? Have you ever heard of our federal government and federal laws REQUIRING public schools to provide certain services whether the local administration agrees with it or not? Please, go directly to the Superintendent or any other administrator and get the facts. After you get educated, feel free to complain enthusiastically to people who can help us out of the spoiled existence this government has created for us.

      In the meantime, research the return on investment ranking for CCPS. We are ranked #6 in the state. It’s called doing MORE with LESS. You have no appreciation for the fiscally conservative efforts put in place by CCPS during the past few years??? I find that shocking.

      I appreciate your right to take your position at Rts. 40 and 213 and share your views. I respect your position. Please don’t judge others without examining the facts. It lessens your credibility.

      For what it’s worth, I walked uphill in both directions, barefoot in the snow, when I attended public school. It didn’t hurt me a bit!

  3. Tom Kappra on May 1, 2011 at 2:49 pm


    You know the numbers: Cecil County Public Schools ranks 19th in cost per student in the state and 18th in wealth. A recent national study ranks CCPS 6th in the state in terms of return on educational investment (spending relative to student achievement).

    The Citizens Budget Advisory Committee pointed out the decline in education spending over the past ten years and made several other recommendations to reduce county spending. As they pointed out, some current spending trends cannot be sustained, and specifically cited the growth in General Government as one area of concern. General Government will go up another $.6 million in 2012. How many of the recommendations of the committee were adopted?

    In fact, from 2008 to 2012, General Government will have gone up more than the TOTAL CCPS budget:
    –General Government $2.2 up 20%
    –CCPS appropriation $1.2 up 2%
    –CCPS Total Operating $2.0 up 1.8% (prior to the County’s additional cut)

    CCPS reduced its budget by over $7.5 million for fiscal 2012 and dramatically reduced baseline spending projections. The administrative services portion will be less than what it was in 2007.

    The County’s total spending (excluding reductions in education) continues to increase.

  4. Tina Sharp on May 2, 2011 at 7:00 am

    The reality is none of what is posted matters; the fact is there is no money. The largest spot on the target will get more hits. Until more than 40% of this county contributes to the tax base, you get what you get.

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