Cecil County Budget: No Tax Rise Planned in Exec’s Budget, Despite Lower Revenues, State $ Mandates
The new Cecil County Executive plans no tax boosts in her upcoming budget, despite a largely bleak economic outlook and rising costs passed on to the county by the state of Maryland, aides told the County Council Tuesday. But left unsaid was the reality that the only way to achieve that goal would be to sharply cut spending on a wide array of county programs.
County Executive Tari Moore will host a citizens’ budget forum 1/30/13, Wednesday evening, beginning at 7 p.m. at the county office building in Elkton. A broad budget issues outline will be presented by Craig Whiteford, the county’s budget manager, and citizens will be able to comment and offer their own suggestions for the budget that Moore will present to the County Council in March. The Council is only empowered to cut budget items but cannot re-arrange priorities or add money to any program.
Whiteford gave a preview of his presentation to the County Council Tuesday morning, saying that it was Moore’s intent, on the property tax rate, to “keep it where it is now.” If so, that would necessitate some significant spending cuts because property tax assessments and related revenues are expected to decline significantly.
A “constant yield” tax rate lets the county collect the same amount of overall property tax revenues as it did in the previous year, and if property assessments decline, the actual tax rate charged to homeowners may rise so as to produce the same amount of revenues overall as in the previous budget year. But Whiteford’s comments indicate that Moore is looking to keep the property tax rate at its current level despite the fact that assessments—and property tax revenues—are declining.
Whiteford said that the latest re-assessment of property values in one-third of the county—the southern section of the county—effective this month showed a significant drop in property values. Overall, the county shows a drop in property values from $9.5 billion in the current budget year to $9.2 billion in the upcoming Fiscal 2014 budget year. But he said there was some “modest enthusiasm” for the future because it appears property values have finally hit a “trough” and will not decline further in future budget years.
Other gloomy news:
–The state’s continued shift of teacher pension costs in escalating proportions will mean Cecil County has to come up with $3.1 million in the new budget for its share of pension expenses, up from $2.5 million in the current budget year.
–Continued declining enrollment in county public schools, estimated at 229 fewer students, means that state funds for the schools will drop by an estimated $1.1 million.
–The public schools are expected to seek a hefty $3.3 million spending rise, not including the $3.1 million cost of teacher pensions, for a $70.4 million contribution from the county.
–But the county is only obligated under state law to provide “maintenance of effort”—the same per student amount as in the previous year. Consequently, figuring in the lower enrollment figures, the county would only be required by state law to provide $66.14 million, down from the $67.15 million provided in the current budget year.
–Revenues to local government from the Hollywood Casino in Perryville have declined by 40 percent since 2012.
Meanwhile, the county is expecting to provide a 1.5 percent cost of living increase to county employees. But there will be no “step increases” for employees moving up in pay categories or seniority classifications.
Cecil College plans no tuition increases and will see an estimated 6 percent rise in state aid due to rising enrollments. The state will also continue to provide financial support for the ongoing development of a math and engineering building at the college.
There is expected to be additional staffing for public safety agencies, including the sheriff’s department and emergency services/911 operations due to increased demand for services.
But there was no mention of the still unresolved delayed ambulance response times and limited emergency medical services in southern Cecil County—an issue that has been discussed but unaddressed by county government for well over a year.