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Cecil County Budget: Council Weighs $91K Auditor Job, Budget Review Process

March 28, 2013
By Nancy Schwerzler

NEWS ANALYSIS

Never say never in Cecil County government and politics. But sometimes it’s politically wise to say “maybe.”

After months of resistance by colleagues to a demand by County Commissioner/Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4) to hire a County Council “auditor” to investigate spending and operations of the new County Executive, suddenly the position surfaced as a budget priority on Tuesday.

During discussion at a Council budget “workshop,” it was disclosed for the first time that the County Council proposed inclusion in its budget of a “Council auditor” position. Broomell has insisted that such a position is needed as an independent watchdog on the County Executive and to provide “checks and balances” between the two branches of county government under the new Charter system.

But the budget proposal and political reality might not be the same thing.

Under the speeded-up budget process under Charter this year, County Executive Tari Moore obtained spending proposals from the new Council for its own operations and included them in her overall budget proposal unveiled earlier this month. Individual Council members also submitted their suggestions for the spending plan for council operations, sources said.

“That’s a courtesy I extended to them,” Moore told Cecil Times, explaining why her budget included the auditor proposal. “I’m not involved in the Council’s day to day operations,” she added, so it will be up to the Council members to decide on their own if the auditor position is needed and they want to pay for it.

In political terms, it made sense for the Executive to simply forward back to the Council members’ own proposals for expenditures in the new budget, so as not to risk alienation of individual members and possible retaliation against her own broader budget initiatives. So it is up to the Council members to sort out their own budget and personnel priorities.

County Council Manager James Massey told Cecil Times the auditor position had been proposed for an annual $70,000 salary plus $21,000 in benefits costs, for a total of $91,000.

County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) and Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1) both opposed the auditor position when Broomell repeatedly raised it in December, when the Council deadlocked 2-2 on the matter, with Broomell and her usual voting partner Councilor Michael Dunn (R-3) endorsing the post. The District 2 seat was then vacant, since Moore had ascended to the County Executive position. Her replacement on the Council, Joyce Bowlsbey, has been critical of the auditor concept in subsequent discussions.

One voice in support of the auditor post was former county Treasurer Bill Feehley, who lost that post under the shift to Charter government. Feehley is a member of a Citizens’ Budget Advisory panel that is attending the Council’s budget review meetings and when asked by Broomell on Tuesday for his view, he said, “I think it’s important because the more information everyone has the more informed people can be.” Broomell has made no secret that Feehley is her choice for the auditor post.

But Broomell’s pleasure that the post was added to the executive’s budget proposal may be short-lived when it comes down to the next roll call vote.

Overall, the Council’s operating budget proposal amounts to $487,957, Massey said, or an increase of $246,979. Apart from the auditor position, much of the cost increase stems from the transition to Charter government and the need to allocate certain costs—such as advertising for public hearings on pending legislation and legal services—that in the past would have been borne by government administrative functions that are now divided between the Council and County Executive. The budget proposal for the Council includes $70,000 to contract for legal advice on an as needed basis and $50,000 for consultants and other professional services.

Meanwhile, the County Council—which has been tied up in knots for months over its own procedural operating rules—took up another procedural question regarding its review of the Fiscal 2014 budget.

At issue was whether the new County Council should discuss and decide issues in the new budget proposed by the County Executive in a detailed, line-by-line manner or should the Council just adopt one over-arching budget resolution that would incorporate any changes to the executive’s proposal.

Hodge said he wanted to avoid the sort of endless, “every nickel and dime…roll call vote” process he has observed in Harford County Council’s budget review process. “I guess I’m not anticipating such a wide disagreement” in Cecil County over the executive’s budget proposal, Hodge said. He suggested the overall budge resolution approach.

“You’ve been so supportive of the County Executive so far,” Broomell told fellow council members, that she was concerned that the single resolution plan would amount to a rubber stamp of the executive’s budget.

“I’d like to go item by item to show what increases you’re supporting,” Broomell said. And citizens need to know if “a majority of this council” is supporting “increases” in spending, apparently referring to Executive-proposed increases over current spending levels in some programs.

Under Charter government, the Council is not empowered to increase spending proposed in the Executive’s budget but may cut spending items. The County Executive’s budget set a freeze on property tax rates, even though revenues to the county are down from last year. Her budget balancing act was largely accomplished by tapping $4 million in county reserve funds.

If the County Council were to use the Hodge proposal for an overall resolution, Broomell would likely complain about it at every opportunity for the rest of the year and agitate against fellow Councilors. And Broomell’s microscopic approach would likely prompt an endless stream of political rhetoric and amendments on every penny.

Instead, the Council could take a middle ground and consider possible amendments by spending category—such as one amendment dealing with all public safety programs, one amendment dealing with all education spending, etc.

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7 Responses to Cecil County Budget: Council Weighs $91K Auditor Job, Budget Review Process

  1. Too Much Government on March 28, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    Hopefully 2014 will bring an end to all this dead weight on the County Council and vote in reasonable and respected individuals who keep the taxpayers best interest in their decision-making process. We need to get rid of the Smigiel puppets.

  2. Bill De Freitas on March 30, 2013 at 8:55 am

    The real problem is that two of our Councilors are always convinced there is some conspiracy going on behind the scenes, that our elected officals all have something to hide or their own agendas. Is that because they have actually on occasion been involved themselves with behind the scene deals and agendas?

    This mind set has cost, and will cost, the County thousands of taxppayer dollars. It is amazing that some of our Councilors believe if they work together with the County Executive for a budget that works for our citizens, that the Council has been too easy on the County Executive. Just maybe it is because it is a sound budget which needs just minor adjustments to work under these hard economic times.

  3. Al Reasin on April 1, 2013 at 6:32 am

    The county has an audit organization on call if a situation arises requiring one. We were told that charter government would not increase the cost of government in Cecil County. An auditor position would definitely make that declaration invalid, in my opinion.

    Council member Broomell publicly bemoans the cost of government, yet wants to spend $91,00 on an auditor and possibly more on support staff. I can also see the county government being tied in knots with continuous investigations.

    It is time for the County Council to move on in their service to the county.

    • Kelly Frost on June 3, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      And yet our spending has increased – it’s 2014. Hmmm…

  4. Donna Caudell on April 1, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    Bill Feehley is on the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee and is advocating a position for himself from that committee. Isn’t that a conflict of interest?

    • Bill Feehley on April 4, 2013 at 5:52 am

      It would be if I were interested in that position. I have never had any interest in that job. I am done with full time employment at the county.

  5. Rick O'Shea on April 4, 2013 at 7:14 am

    Is there a job description?

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OUR CECIL COUNTY DELEGATE DELIVERED (Part 3)

Supporting Our First Responders

*Secured Mobile Command Unit Bus

*Helped obtain land for Perryville Fire Station 16

*Fought for traffic signal devices to aid emergency vehicles

*Hosted security/safety workshop on crude oil transports

And More to Come
(Auth: Citizens for David Rudolph, Linda S. Read, Treasurer)

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