Cecil County Budget: Advisors Seek Cuts in Cops, Schools, Seneca Point; Cecilton Mayor Backs Sheriff Request for Five Deputies

May 10, 2013

A citizens’ budget advisory panel, which spent just a few weeks listening to presentations on the county’s needs and the County Executive’s proposed budget, on Tuesday suggested a budget slashing agenda with major cuts in county schools, public safety and infrastructure programs.

The recommendations by the group– which included multiple members with anti-government spending agendas including two failed political candidates for county executive in the last election—proposed major cuts but did not provide detailed rationales for the proposals in their 1 ½ page report.

The group’s proposals are unlikely to gain much traction during the County Council’s consideration of the County Executive’s budget, and discussions on Tuesday indicated that the only Council member who agreed with most of the panel’s suggestions was Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4.) A broad-based advisory panel that spent many more months reviewing budget policies last year presented a more detailed and explanatory report but most of the proposals still were not adopted by the then-Commissioners.

The budged proposed in March by County Executive Tari Moore provided for a freeze on county property tax rates, while providing five new deputies to the Sheriff’s department and a modest increase to the county’s public schools. Her budget primarily relied on tapping $4 million from county reserve funds which have grown significantly in recent years.

So it was somewhat surprising that the advisory panel called for such major cuts in county programs, since the Executive had not proposed tax increases to support her program priorities.

Nevertheless, the budget advisory panel proposed:

–$5.7 million in cuts to Cecil County Public Schools, including providing the bare-bones State-mandated minimum “maintenance of effort” funding level and putting off construction of the proposed Perryville school field house.

–Rejection of the Sheriff’s Department request for five new deputies, to boost road patrols to meet increased citizens’ calls for service, including five new police cars to serve the additional staff. The panel did not address rising crime problems but instead said that a ‘bar code software’ used by administrative support staff would release patrol officers from paperwork chores so they could spend more time on the streets. The panel claimed rejecting the five deputy slots would save $565,000. The panel also said deputies’ ability to take home patrol cars should be curtailed.

–Rejection of county Public Works Director Scott Flanigan’s longstanding recommendations, approved by past county legislative panels, to proceed with a “membrane” technology to upgrade the Seneca Point sewage treatment plan that is under a state mandate to reduce pollution. Opposition to the Seneca Point project as proposed by Flanigan—expected to cost $30 million in county funds on top of a nearly $11 million state grant—has been a top priority of Councilor Broomell.

–Emergency Medical Services—No increases, such as the Emergency Services Director’s request for two new paramedic employees. The county government provides, and pays for, three advanced life support (ALS) ambulance stations in the county staffed by paramedics who are county employees. Volunteer fire companies provide basic life support (BLS) ambulance services throughout the county. The budget panel’s comments appeared to be unaware of the differences between the types of emergency ambulance services that provide care at different levels of medical needs. The budget panel simply said that volunteer fire companies could handle needed ambulance services.

The panel also demanded that Cecil College not be allowed to proceed with a $158,000 building renovation project and opposed preliminary work on a future turf field under the parks and recreation department.

The Seneca Point opposition drew the most commentary from County Council members, with Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) asking panel members if they had been present for, or reviewed audio and video tapes, of a recent lengthy presentation to the Council by Flanigan on the issue. Members responded that they had not been present but some members had reviewed materials from the presentation.

Former county Treasurer Bill Feehley, a member of the budget advisory panel, said that the project was too costly at this time, and that a cheaper technology that would be fully funded by a state grant could meet the current environmental mandates. He, as did Broomell, questioned projections of population and economic development growth suggesting that Seneca Point needed to have the ability to expand for future needs in the next decade or less.

“We don’t know,” Feehley said, if the “growth corridor” preferred by potential business or industrial employers will be in the area served by Seneca Point or “in Rising Sun or down in Cecilton.” The county’s designated growth corridor, between I-95 and Route 40, is largely in the Seneca Point service area.

“So you are all betting the county isn’t going to grow that much,” observed Councilor Hodge.

Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1) said he was concerned that without the ability to expand future capacity, the county may have “missed opportunities” for economic development and job creation. He also pointed out that the “membrane” technology, endorsed by Flanigan in a “powerful presentation” to the Council, would allow future expansion on the same land location.

But McCarthy said that the cheaper stop-gap approach favored by Broomell and the budget panel would require creation of a new plant at another site, further raising costs in the future. “Did you evaluate all these different options,” McCarthy wondered.

Meanwhile, at Tuesday’s morning worksession, Cecilton Mayor Joseph Zang addressed the County Council to support Sheriff Barry Janney’s request for five additional deputies in the new budget. He said the county’s southernmost town has had rising crime problems since the Sheriff was forced last fall, due to rising numbers of countywide calls for assistance, to curtail assignment of deputies to a street-level crime task force that had been effective against drug-dealing in the Cecilton area.

“I’m pleading with you,” Zang said, to avoid cuts to the county’s public safety budget. The mayor pointed out that the town does not have its own police force and relies on the Sheriff and State Police.

“I want to see how he’s going to use them,” Broomell said of the requested deputies. She went on at length about how Harford County’s Sheriff uses many “resources” and has a “master plan” for policing priorities. She didn’t mention that Harford has a much larger population and much larger public safety budget.

Zang said that in conversations with Janney, he was assured by the Sheriff that “with additional manpower, he’d be able to put the street-level crime unit in play.”

In an interview with Cecil Times, Janney said “the volume of calls has risen dramatically” and he has had to deploy deputies to respond to citizens’ calls for help as a top priority. He noted he had not received approval for additional deputies in the past four years from the County Commissioners despite the rising demand for police services.

He said he wanted to assign one new deputy to each of five patrol groups to “get things under control” and that would ultimately allow deployment of officers to street-level crime fighting.

Janney noted that the budget advisory panel apparently had not researched current collective bargaining agreements, which specify policies for take-home cars for deputies and could not be altered during the two-year duration of the current agreement.

Janney said he was hopeful that a majority of the Council would support the County Executive’s proposal for five new deputies. But if not, “I’ll just have to do the best I can with what I’ve got.”

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2 Responses to Cecil County Budget: Advisors Seek Cuts in Cops, Schools, Seneca Point; Cecilton Mayor Backs Sheriff Request for Five Deputies

  1. Too Much Government on May 10, 2013 at 9:38 am

    Well now, isn’t this just redneck Cecil County thinking. Sounds to me like they forget that the county gave Buddy’s For Life $2.2 million to do a dog catchers job but now they are balking at the increase in real law enforcement.

    Take the $2.2 million for the dog catchers and give it to the Sheriff’s Office. Hopefully those individuals who can’t see the forest from the trees have a need for the sheriff’s deputies to respond to them for help and that their names are remembered by all with a slower than usual appearance because they are busy in another part of the county.
    Karma baby!

  2. Mike R on May 10, 2013 at 10:38 am

    I for one find this Advisory group an abomination to seriously recommend that the addition in the sheriff’s staff be denied. Have they not been reading the local news with the horrific increase in crimes in Cecil County, and all the drug running through out Cecil County and in particular in Cecilton?

    Middle age and older folks are afraid to come out of their house or apartment in many locations. We need to increase the drug task force, increase patrol to the south side of the canal and particularly Warwick and Cecilton areas.

    If they want to cut costs, maybe the salaries and expense accounts in county government should be seriously reviewed…and the money the county gave the Buddy people for animal control. It is pretty sad when dog catching becomes a priority over human protection.

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