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Cecil County Exec Moore Proposes New Budget to Freeze Property Tax Rates Again, Boost Schools Aid and Target Drug Abuse Programs

March 3, 2014
By Nancy Schwerzler

Cecil County Executive Tari Moore proposed a new Fiscal 2015 budget that would freeze property tax rates, add one new Sheriff’s 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 “fund balance” accounts. Moore’s 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 Sheriff’s budget that brought the hit on reserves down to $3.3 million this year.

Also for the second consecutive year, Moore’s 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.

“Cecil County is in a good position to handle the needs we have,” Moore said. But some “sacrifices” had to be made, including her own wish to hire a public information officer and legislative analyst to track legislation in Annapolis for the executive’s office.

A key part of the county’s 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 county’s general fund, while property taxes account for 58 percent of the county’s revenues.

Moore’s budget allocated new positions and spending to various anti-drug initiatives, including the hiring of one new Sheriff’s Deputy (the agency had requested two new Deputies) to work on a drug task force; an additional prosecutor in the State’s Attorney’s 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 Department—which is jointly financed by the county and state—for 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 Moore’s 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 budget—of the cost of teachers pensions which are being transferred from the state to local governments. Moore’s allocation amounts to $2.8 million above the bare-bones “maintenance of effort” 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 “enterprise funds”—in particular, sewage treatment services—that 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 landfill—10 percent for “tipping fees” for residential users and those who bring recycling to the landfill and the county’s 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 “I felt like I needed the wisdom of Solomon.” In the end, her priorities came down to “these aren’t ‘wants,’ folks; these are needs.”

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8 Responses to Cecil County Exec Moore Proposes New Budget to Freeze Property Tax Rates Again, Boost Schools Aid and Target Drug Abuse Programs

  1. Joe C on March 4, 2014 at 10:14 am

    So we are playing the old budget game, request high and receive less and everyone wins but the taxpayer. Until Cecil county adopts zero based budgeting this game will continue. Taxes will increase because Tari Moore is not really holding the line on taxes because she will exceed constant yield, as was pointed out in this article. Another point is that a fee is a tax, just by another name.

    When the landfill fees increase, hard hit citizens will end up paying more when the haulers increase fees and they have to pay more when they haul there own trash.
    I hope she put more money in the road budget because there will be more trash adorning the sides of the roads because given the choice between eating and disposing trash, eating will also win.

    I guess Tari’s new name will be “3.5 Tari.”

  2. Natalie Scheeler Ricci on March 4, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    Illegal drug use and addiction appear to be one of the mainstay problem issues of our area. Allocating funding to attack this scurge on multiple fronts is a wise move on the part of County Executive Moore. Furthermore, the realization that many of our youth turn to drugs out of sheer boredom, lack of parental involvement, lack of self esteem, and/or all of the above make the funding allocation for the regional park yet another smart choice.

    We need to stop putting band aids on our wounds and work to eradicate (or at the very least attempt to control) the CAUSE of the wounds in the first place. Some may see these expenditures as whimsical when in reality they are forward thinking and hit right at the root of the problem.

    I applaud County Executive Moore’s willingness to by-pass the surface solutions and seek real remedies to the difficult issues we face.

  3. Brian Arellazano on March 7, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    The property tax rate is proposed to be set below the constant yield tax rate. Check the facts. The property tax rate proposed at .9907, constant yield tax rate is 1.0040. There you go.

    • Joe C on March 10, 2014 at 10:01 am

      As the article states, some will see a tax increase because, the assessments will rise. More money for government to spend and they are good at it1

      • Jackie Gregory on March 14, 2014 at 12:30 pm

        Joe, you know that property tax values can never be constant for everyone because of the timing of the state property assessments and the formula for constant yield. However, my property taxes have declined over the past two years. If I am reassessed by the state this year and the state says my property value has increased, my taxes may increase slightly, even though most other people’s will continue to decline. Anything below constant yield formula is considered a tax cut. To portray it as otherwise is disingenuous.

        • Joe C on March 15, 2014 at 6:11 pm

          Jackie,
          You forgot to mention the large percentage increase in landfill fees and the fact that money is being moved from that enterprise fund to the wastewater fund, how convenient! No matter the mechanics of taxation, if more money is taken from a taxpayer, it’s a tax increase. I am surprised that you as a Patriot continue to defend Tari Moore, who has grown government and increased spending, debt, taxes and fees.

          • Brian Jackson on March 16, 2014 at 9:04 pm

            Joe, you ignore the fact that enterprise funds (wastewater, landfill, etc.) are required to be self-supporting. If revenues don’t equal expenditures, the General Fund (every taxpayer – not just those who use the landfill) has to pay for those expenditures.

            I already pay for my trash to be picked up. Do you? If landfill fees don’t increase, do you think it’s fair that I have to subsidize your trash pick up? I certainly don’t.

          • Joe C on March 19, 2014 at 6:38 pm

            Brian,
            That is the problem,increase expenditures. This government keeps spending! Just look at the 5 million dollar increase this year. On top of the 50% increase in county debt in the past year. Very easy to spend other peoples money. The commercial rate is going up, so get ready to pay more! Just remember Moore=More(Taxes, Debt and Fees)

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IT'S BEEN AN HONOR TO SERVE CECIL COUNTY

My sincere thanks to all who voted for me and supported our campaign to continue serving all of Cecil County

*While there was more I wished to do, I now look forward to spending more time with my family

*I cherish the friends who have reached out to me and share in the pride of what we have accomplished for Cecil County.

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