Cecil County Budget: Council Weighs $91K Auditor Job, Budget Review Process
Never say never in Cecil County government and politics. But sometimes itâ€™s politically wise to say â€śmaybe.â€ť
After months of resistance by colleagues to a demand by County Commissioner/Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4) to hire a County Council â€śauditorâ€ť 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 â€śworkshop,â€ť it was disclosed for the first time that the County Council proposed inclusion in its budget of a â€śCouncil auditorâ€ť position. Broomell has insisted that such a position is needed as an independent watchdog on the County Executive and to provide â€śchecks and balancesâ€ť 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.
â€śThatâ€™s a courtesy I extended to them,â€ť Moore told Cecil Times, explaining why her budget included the auditor proposal. â€śIâ€™m not involved in the Councilâ€™s day to day operations,â€ť 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 membersâ€™ 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 Broomellâ€™s pleasure that the post was added to the executiveâ€™s budget proposal may be short-lived when it comes down to the next roll call vote.
Overall, the Councilâ€™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 costsâ€”such as advertising for public hearings on pending legislation and legal servicesâ€”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 Councilâ€”which has been tied up in knots for months over its own procedural operating rulesâ€”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 executiveâ€™s proposal.
Hodge said he wanted to avoid the sort of endless, â€śevery nickel and dimeâ€¦roll call voteâ€ť process he has observed in Harford County Councilâ€™s budget review process. â€śI guess Iâ€™m not anticipating such a wide disagreementâ€ť in Cecil County over the executiveâ€™s budget proposal, Hodge said. He suggested the overall budge resolution approach.
â€śYouâ€™ve been so supportive of the County Executive so far,â€ť Broomell told fellow council members, that she was concerned that the single resolution plan would amount to a rubber stamp of the executiveâ€™s budget.
â€śIâ€™d like to go item by item to show what increases youâ€™re supporting,â€ť Broomell said. And citizens need to know if â€śa majority of this councilâ€ť is supporting â€śincreasesâ€ť 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 Executiveâ€™s budget but may cut spending items. The County Executiveâ€™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 Broomellâ€™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 categoryâ€”such as one amendment dealing with all public safety programs, one amendment dealing with all education spending, etc.