Cecil County Exec Moore Proposes New Budget to Freeze Property Tax Rates Again, Boost Schools Aid and Target Drug Abuse Programs
Cecil County Executive Tari Moore proposed a new Fiscal 2015 budget that would freeze property tax rates, add one new Sheriffâs deputy to the force and boost public schools spending by 3.5 percent, including a rising share of teacher pension costs dumped on the county by the state.
For the second consecutive year, Moore would balance her budget by tapping more than $4.1 million from reserve funds, or âfund balanceâ accounts. Mooreâs current year budget called for using $4 million of reserve funds but the County Council made some last-minute cuts in schools, libraries and the Sheriffâs budget that brought the hit on reserves down to $3.3 million this year.
Also for the second consecutive year, Mooreâs budget would freeze local property tax rates at .9907 per $100 of assessed property value. While most homeowners will face no increases, some residents whose properties are re-assessed this year by the state may have higher property values to which their tax rate is applied.
Moore said, at a Friday press conference to unveil her budget, that she had to cut $20 million from various departmental spending requests and defer many capital improvement projects in order to stick to her pledge to keep the tax rate the same.
âCecil County is in a good position to handle the needs we have,â Moore said. But some âsacrificesâ had to be made, including her own wish to hire a public information officer and legislative analyst to track legislation in Annapolis for the executiveâs office.
A key part of the countyâs improving budget picture is rising receipts from income taxes, an indicator of better job prospects for county residents. Income tax revenues account for 30 percent of the revenues supporting the countyâs general fund, while property taxes account for 58 percent of the countyâs revenues.
Mooreâs budget allocated new positions and spending to various anti-drug initiatives, including the hiring of one new Sheriffâs Deputy (the agency had requested two new Deputies) to work on a drug task force; an additional prosecutor in the Stateâs Attorneyâs office to prosecute drug offenders; a drug court co-ordinator; and half the salary of a designated drug analyst at the state crime lab, with the other half paid by the state, to expedite analysis of seized drug evidence to be used in court in criminal cases.
In addition, Moore allocated an additional $345,000 to the Health Departmentâwhich is jointly financed by the county and stateâfor drug treatment and counseling programs. The budget will also cover the launch of a drug education program in the local schools.
Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS) requested a 6.1 percent spending increase but Mooreâs budget provides a 3.5 percent increase, with a total of $72.1 million in spending for operating the schools and an increasing share– $3.3 million in the new budgetâof the cost of teachers pensions which are being transferred from the state to local governments. Mooreâs allocation amounts to $2.8 million above the bare-bones âmaintenance of effortâ level of local aid mandated by the state for public schools support.
Cecil College requested an increase of 9.5 percent but Moore scaled it back to a 3.5 percent boost. The increases will cover a new physical therapy assistant program and equipment and supplies for the new engineering and math building on the campus which will finish construction this summer.
The county library system requested a 7.7 percent increase but the new budget provides a 3.5 percent boost, including expanded parking at the Elkton library and work to link libraries to a new state-provided high-speed broadband network.
Last year, Moore staked out a position on so-called âenterprise fundsââin particular, sewage treatment servicesâthat put her into conflict with the County Council. She proposed major increases in sewer hook-up fees for new customers to pay the costs of those services so that non-user taxpayers would not be left holding the financial bag. But the council scaled back her request significantly, and delayed its implementation for several months.
This year, she said she would not try again to boost the sewage hookup fees, even though those enterprise funds are still not fully caught up with user fees needed to cover the costs of services provided.
However, she did propose increases in fees for the landfillâ10 percent for âtipping feesâ for residential users and those who bring recycling to the landfill and the countyâs two trash transfer stations. (But there would be no increase for businesses who dump demolition or construction refuse.) The increases are part of a three-year plan to boost fees paid by users of the landfill services.
One major capital improvement project included in the new budget is the start of work on a regional park at Calvert, a 104 acre site the county acquired through state open space funds in 2008. The initial phase of the park development, costing nearly $2.6 million, will provide for design and eventual construction of four athletic fields, one synthetic turf field, parking lots and walking trails.
And county employees, whose pay was frozen for several years until a modest boost in the current budget, will get a 1.75 percent cost of living and step raise increase in the new budget.
Overall, the county’s operating budget is proposed for $239.4 million while the capital budget for construction projects is pegged at $26.9 million.
Moore said there was no one decision that was particularly difficult to make as she reviewed departmental requests but overall âI felt like I needed the wisdom of Solomon.â In the end, her priorities came down to âthese arenât âwants,â folks; these are needs.â