Cecil County Budget: Another ‘Happy Meal” Property Tax Cut Trims Half-Cent Off Rate
The Cecil County Commissioners Tuesday adopted operating and capital improvement budgets that will give property owners their second consecutive â€śHappy Mealâ€ť tax cutâ€” yielding savings of about the cost of a familyâ€™s fast-food mealâ€”while delaying many construction projects.
But unlike last yearâ€™s contentious budget process, this year the County Commissioners were unanimous in their support of the Fiscal 2013 budget plans, and several members praised their colleagues for the civil tone and collegial attitude that Commissioners displayed in this yearâ€™s budget process.
And unlike last yearâ€™s budgetâ€”which hit the county public schools hard and siphoned teacher and staff support funds from the schoolsâ€™ operating budget for a last minute half-cent cut in the property tax rate– this time around the overall county capital (construction) budget took the hit, by delaying projects and the costs that would have been paid out in Fiscal 2013, which begins 7/1/12.
As a result, the county will knock off a half-cent from the â€śconstant yieldâ€ť property tax rateâ€”defined as the amount of property tax revenues needed to equal those of the previous budget yearâ€”that the Commissioners had earlier proposed and put out to a public hearing two weeks ago.
The final action on Tuesday, approved by a unanimous vote of all Commissioners, set a property tax rate of .9907 cents per $100 of assessed property value. Earlier, the proposed budget put out to public hearing had called for a rate of .9957 per $100 of assessed property value. Consequently, the approved tax rate is a half-cent lower than previously proposed.
In practical terms, the impact for owners of a home valued at $100,000 by state property assessors amounts to $5, or $10 for owners of a home valued at $200,000. Make those plans for a Happy Meal visit to Mickey Dâ€™s, folks.
But in fact, that Happy Meal benefit does not account for the declining home values in the county that actually required a slightly higher overall property tax rate than last yearâ€™s figure just to achieve the â€śconstant yieldâ€ť tax rateâ€”producing the same amount of property tax revenues to the county as last year. As a result, the property tax rate will rise a tiny bit, from .9401 cents per $100 now to the new rate of .9907 in the new budget
So maybe the average family will have to serve those down-sized burgers at home, with no night out at the fast-food place.
In broader terms, there is a significant change in the final approved budget in contrast to the proposed spending plan of just a few weeks ago: a dramatic reduction in the amount that the budget taps into reserve funds, or the countyâ€™s â€śfund balanceâ€ť that is set aside for contingencies and emergencies.
Initially, the new budget called for hitting the reserve or â€śfund balanceâ€ť by about $3 million, including a set-aside for the anticipated $2.4 million cost of the stateâ€™s plan to shift part of the cost of teacher pensions to the counties.
[SEE previous Cecil Times report on the initial Fiscal 2013 budget proposal here:
But, due to slashing of several construction proposals, in the past two weeks the Commissioners reduced their reliance on the reserved money to just $612,436.
County Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2), told Cecil Times she was very pleased that the Commissioners vastly reduced their reliance on those emergency funds in the new budget. She had voted against last yearâ€™s budget because she felt it irresponsibly tapped those funds.
Last yearâ€™s budget raided the â€śfund balanceâ€ť by $1.64 million, prompting Moore to vote against that budget.
[SEE previous Cecil Times report on last yearâ€™s budget battle here:
â€śWe needed to be responsible,â€ť Moore said Tuesday. â€śWe donâ€™t know whatâ€™s coming in the future.â€ť One thing that is clear, she added, is that the state will continue to dump an ever increasing share of teacher pension costs on the county next year. Moore, who is the Republican candidate for County Executive in the November election, added that the county is facing â€śa lot of unknownsâ€ť as it transitions to Charter government in the next year and it is prudent to leave some funds aside to deal with possible unforeseen costs.
In adopting the new budget, Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) commended his colleagues, saying, â€śInstead of contention and conflict, we, the Commissioners, communicated civillyâ€ť on the budget. â€śIâ€™m pleased we were able to do that.â€ť
Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) said she was â€śpleased with the budgetâ€ť and called it â€śa fiscally responsible budget.â€ť
In the newly revised county budget, Commissioners slashed construction spending for various road, bridge and related building projects. And the budget cut spending for Cecil College construction projects by $242,000. College president Steve Pannill attended the budget session Tuesday and appeared in good spirits and health after a serious car accident put him in the hospital briefly a week ago.
Overall, the Commissioners delayed spending on multiple construction projects in the budget year beginning in Julyâ€”including deferring $370,000 for upgrading security at the Rising Sun library, various road projects at a cost savings of $590,000, and delaying spending for the Port Deposit Tower by $350,000, among other projects. As a result, spending was further reduced from the original budget proposal a few weeks ago by more than $2.3 million.
In all, the county will spend $166,748,807 in Fiscal 2013 for operating expenses.