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Cecil County Budget: Council Backs Most of County Exec Budget, Majority Supports Calvert Park; County Bond Rating Upgraded

May 14, 2014
By Nancy Schwerzler

The Cecil County Council indicated informal support for most of County Executive Tari Moore’s proposed Fiscal 2015 budget during a Tuesday afternoon worksession, supporting county schools and library spending and rejecting a bid by Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) to scale back spending on a new regional park.

But the Council did agree to save $2.8 million by deferring a sewer upgrade at Cherry Hill and to use the budget process to require higher mileage for county Sheriff’s cars before they are replaced.

And County Executive Moore announced Tuesday that one national bond rating agency had upgraded its rating of the county’s bond credit-worthiness, a move that could reduce the costs of county borrowing for capital projects.

Hodge declared at the outset of the session that the panel was not taking any formal votes but as members went through the line items, as well as recommendations from a citizens’ budget advisory panel, the majority sentiments were clear. The Council will hold another worksession next week and will conduct its formal votes and adoption of a new budget at its evening meeting on Tuesday 5/20/14.

Par for the course at recent Council worksessions, Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4) took verbal shots at fellow council members and was admonished several times by Hodge for straying from the budget items discussion at hand. Her usual videographer was not present to record the afternoon session, so the proceedings moved along relatively smoothly. (The camera was rolling at a morning worksession with a light agenda, and Broomell went into her now standard vocal complaints about minutes of previous meetings, leading to several gavel-poundings and a warning from Hodge.)

The most unusual alliance of the day came when the Council discussed the proposal to spend $2.58 million for “phase one” of development of a regional park at Calvert. Hodge suggested spending just $1 million in the new budget and deferring the balance. Broomell said she supported a regional park but wanted some community financial support such as has been arranged at another facility used by local soccer leagues.

County Budget Manager Craig Whiteford said that the “phase one” plan would develop a synthetic field, grass fields, a parking area and walking trails within a 12-18 month timeframe. “That’s the magic plan,” he said, “so you’re not sitting there with a shell” of a facility.

The Calvert park proposal has been the subject of an extensive lobbying campaign, including social media, emails, phone calls and appearances at Council meetings, by supporters of the project. And in an unusual move for county department heads, the parks director, Clyde VanDyke, was actively and publicly promoting the cause.

The Citizens Budget Advisory Committee opposed any funds for the Calvert park in the new budget, saying it did not believe the contention—advanced by VanDyke and park supporters—that the county could make money on the park by renting out fields to out-of-county teams holding sports tournaments at the site. “While the proposal is popular, it will not succeed as a ‘business venture’ and will require continuous county funding for its maintenance and operations,” the seven-member panel wrote in its report to the Council last week.

But Councilors Alan McCarthy (R-1) and Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2) endorsed the full budget request, saying they had received overwhelming community calls of support for the project. And Councilor Michael Dunn (R-3), the Council’s representative to the Parks and Recreation board, turned his back on the budget advisory panel for the first time in two years and instead said he would support the full park budget request.

Throughout the session, Hodge emphasized that the discussions were to focus on the numbers, not long-simmering policy debates. Broomell took issue with that, saying, “you’re trying to ram this through.”

When Hodge asked her if she had specific budget cut proposals to present—“If you have a proposal, put it on the table”– Broomell said she felt she needed more time and information to offer changes to various aspects of the budget. “This meeting has been scheduled months in advance,” Hodge pointed out.

Last year, there were several last-minute budget cuts offered in the final moments before adoption of the budget by the Council—a process that Hodge admitted later had been “ugly.” But he indicated there would not be a repeat of that process this year.

“There’s going to be a resistance to last-minute changes without discussion,” Hodge warned, while Bowlsbey said, “On May 20 I don’t want surprises.”

During discussion of the Department of Public Works budget—a frequent target of her ire—Broomell objected to a $100,000 proposal for design and planning to extend sewer lines to the Holloway Beach community near Charlestown and very close to the county’s Seneca Point sewage treatment plant. Broomell opposed “investing in an area that isn’t in our growth corridor.”

Public Works Director Scott Flanigan said the area was the Health Department’s top priority for providing sewer service due to failing septics, health issues and environmental concerns due to the community’s location near the Chesapeake Bay.

Bowlsbey said she had visited the community and especially after rainfall, the conditions were “deplorable.” “This area is in trouble,” Bowlsbey said. And, she added with a grin, “I don’t have any houses there, Diana, I promise you.”

No other council members backed Broomell in her opposition to the proposal, so the county executive’s public works budget was endorsed by the council—with one exception. All members agreed with the budget advisory panel’s recommendation to defer $2.8 million in capital spending to build an upgrade of certain sewer lines at Cherry Hill because there was no urgent need at the moment.

The Council also indicated support for a modified version of the advisory panel’s call for increasing the current 100,000 miles threshold for replacing county Sheriff’s department vehicles. After a lengthy discussion and tweaking proposals on how to accomplish that goal, the Council eventually had a majority in favor of either cutting $65,000 or dropping two vehicles from the Sheriff’s request for 18 new cars. “I want to stretch out the life cycle of some of these vehicles…but I don’t want to micromanage it,” Hodge said.

Bowlsbey objected, saying that higher maintenance costs for older cars could mean actual savings in the new budget of only about half that amount—and there would still be the need to replace the cars in a short period of time.

Overall, the Council indicated a majority for supporting the county executive’s budget requests for Cecil College, county public schools, the libraries, the state’s attorney’s office (including an additional prosecutor to handle drug cases and bail hearings) and hiring an additional Sheriff’s deputy.

[SEE previous CECIL TIMES report on Moore's budget proposal here:
http://ceciltimes.com/2014/03/cecil-county-exec-moore-proposes-new-budget-to-freeze-property-tax-rates-again-boost-schools-aid-and-target-drug-abuse-programs/

Meanwhile, Moore announced Tuesday that one of the two national agencies that rate the county’s bonds had given a slight upgrade to the county’s bond status. Standard & Poor’s raised its credit-worthiness ranking of an upcoming issuance of $48 million in bonds to finance various capital improvement projects, boosting the county’s rating from AA to AA+. (The highest S&P rating is AAA.)

“The County is committed to prudent and rational fiscal policies,” Moore said. The uptick in the S&P rating would make county bonds more attractive to investors, so the county may be able to pay investors a lower interest rate in return for increased confidence in the bonds.

[UPDATE: The county issued the $48 million in bonds on Thursday 5/15/14 and the interest rate the county will pay is 2.85 percent, according to a press release from the county executive.]

The other major bond rating agency, Moody’s Investor Services, retained its existing rating for the county’s new bond issue, Aa2. In Moody’s independent announcement of its rating of the new bond issue, the agency stated the bond sale proceeds would be used to “provide new money for various county projects and reimburse the county for prior years cash outlays.”

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6 Responses to Cecil County Budget: Council Backs Most of County Exec Budget, Majority Supports Calvert Park; County Bond Rating Upgraded

  1. Too Much Government on May 15, 2014 at 8:55 am

    All I can say at this moment is hogwash to this Calvert Park spending. This county has so many recreational areas now, why in the world does the county need to spend money to add another? There are parks in every corner of this county. It matters not whether it is local, county, state or federally funded, it’s still taxpayer money.

    Those of us who are actually paying for these parks are too busy working to pay for them to be able to enjoy what is there now. So again, take our money so that the poor and unemployed can play. NOT!!!

  2. Opinionated mom on May 16, 2014 at 4:55 am

    Too much govt: I suspect you don’t have small children. I would enjoy going to Calvert park with my kids.

    Sure, there are plenty of parks in Elkton! The only one I’d go to is Gilpin Manor’s playground. We love it there. Quite frankly, there was no way on Earth I would bring them to the other parks in Elkton. Marina park-do they even have playground equipment there? I would not get near it to find out. That place is terrifying.

    Meadow park is sketchy. We used to go there only in the mornings, but I still kept my phone on me. I just didn’t feel safe in the back of the loop if we were walking/riding bikes. Even during the day, I find people sleeping on the benches back there. You are so right, too much government, I have so many to choose from!

    There was a small playground (a slide) in Elk Mills but too many questionable characters there too. Kenmore was just ok, it’s in the back of the school.

    It takes 22 minutes to drive to Glasgow and we would go there often because it is such a nice park. It is always packed with people, had plenty to offer and overall just a nice place to exercise and get fresh air.

    Do you spend time outside exercising, Too Much Govt? I’d love to hear your recommendations for a good place. A safe place, I mean.

    It’s too bad we could not have toys and playground equipment in our back yard though; The feral cat colony kept urinating on our belongings. But that’s another topic altogether.

    • Too Much Government on May 27, 2014 at 1:57 pm

      Opinionated Mom: whether I have children or not is immaterial. I for one have to work for a living and my tax dollars surely can be better used. But you raise another important issue in this county: the danger of wild cats.

      I have no problem trapping and getting rid of feral cats. Since the county won’t address this animal control problem, then I would tell you to take it upon yourself and trap them. The law permits destroying the animal if it is considered a threat– and the health department reports in the state and county show that wild cats often carry rabies and their feces can be a public health threat, especially to children.

      If the county’s new animal control contractor can’t do its job, then take the cat and drop it off at the County Building! Maybe then the county will address the real problem of feral cats, as you pointed out.

      • sRED 833 on May 28, 2014 at 7:20 am

        I suggest send stray cats to Broomell and Dunn since they voted for the “emergency” animal control contract and extended it from 18 months to 3 years, with no advance notice to anyone. On second thought, send them to Broomell since Dunn’s residence is a mystery.

  3. Ron Lobos on May 17, 2014 at 7:18 am

    Cedar Lane Sports Park in Harford County was established in 2007, so that it can be used as a good indication of financial impact. The initial investment in the park, land purchase and development was paid for by the county…. Their Parks and Rec. Dept. does not directly manage the ongoing operations of the park. A foundation was created for that purpose, Cedar Lane Sports Foundation. The foundation administers the fees, schedules events, and takes care of ongoing park maintenance. The user fees collected go directly to the foundation, not to the county.

    The county has not, nor will it be, repaid for the park investment. The only return on investment the county sees in regards to the park is indirectly through restaurant and hotel taxes that people spend when they travel to the county for games. When capital improvements of significance are needed, the county pays for those improvements. For example, the county included $100k for improvements to Cedar Lane Park in last year’s budget with $150k being provided this year for an irrigation system. Over the next few years millions more will be invested in the park. Please see http://www.harfordcountymd.gov/Budget/Download/2388.pdf page 41 as you scroll throught the document or page 35 if you look at the numbers.

    Mr. Magnus told The Cecil County Patriots that Harford County is considering a hotel tax to be able to recover more of their money they invested in the park program. In addition, if Parks and Recreation or any of the local sports councils that operate the county’s sports programs use the facility, they have to pay for it, although they get it for half of what other people pay.

    Even if the foundation that operates the park were to turn over any of the profits to the county, it wouldn’t amount to much. At the end of 2013 (the most recent filing available), the Cedar Lane Sports Foundation only accumulated $372k after expenses… This is after 6 years of existence and after millions in taxpayer dollars spent in the initial investment as well as millions more planned for spending over the next few years.

    These are the simple facts. If you can send me anything that says differently, then please do. You have been sold an idea from some talking head in the O’Malley administration who has given you grand ideas about how great and profitable this (Calvert Park) will be for Cecil County, but if you use our neighbor as an indicator of how this will work out, the facts don’t support what you’ve been told.

  4. Joe C on May 22, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    Ron,
    Great research! It is a shame that we have RINOS on the council. I offered for them to switch parties the other night at the council meeting. I would like to see the county get out of the park business but we are going head strong into it. Just more spending by the “Free Spending Three”.

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