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Cecil County Exec Proposes Charter Changes to Give Her More Time–and a Heavy Hammer– on Budget; Cuts Time For County Council, Citizen Input

July 9, 2014
By Nancy Schwerzler


COMMENTARY

Cecil County Executive Tari Moore has proposed the first changes to the county’s governing Charter, adopted by voters in 2010, that would give her an extra month to draft her annual budget but would cut two weeks from the time that the County Council, citizens, and a budget advisory panel would have to review her proposals.

In addition, under an amendment to her initial proposals that was offered on Tuesday 7/8/14, Moore would mandate a fiscal hammer: if the County Council failed to adopt a budget by a new June 15 deadline, her original budget proposal would automatically become law.

The Moore proposals shift the balance of power to the county executive even more than the Charter already provides under a governance system that creates a powerful executive and a relatively weak legislative branch of local government. Review of the executive’s budget is one of the few powers of the Council under the existing Charter, but the new proposals would hamstring the Council further and limit the time and opportunities for citizens to voice their viewpoints on the budget.

The Moore proposals, introduced last week as resolutions before the County Council, would require Council approval before they could be placed on the November general election ballot– for voters to decide if they should become law as amendments to the county’s Charter.

In recent presentations to the County Council, Moore administration officials explained the proposals as a way to draft a more accurate and responsive budget, since the state General Assembly is still in session until the first week in April and the current Charter deadline for the executive to present a budget to the County Council is March 1. The current schedule requires the County Council to complete its review and adopt a new budget by May 31 each year, so that county government agencies have time to prepare necessary documents and procedures before the July 1 start of the county fiscal year.

Moore’s proposals would give her an extra month to draft her budget—but cut by two weeks the County Council’s timeframe for action. Under her proposals, she would not have to give the Council her budget plan until April 1, and the Council would have until June 15 to pass a budget resolution. That schedule cuts two weeks from the Council’s current time period for review, county attorney Jason Allison told the Council on Tuesday.

And under an amendment proposed by Moore on Tuesday, if the Council did not take final action on the entire budget by June 15, her budget would automatically become law, regardless of the Council’s views or informal decisions on individual line items in the budget made during preliminary worksessions of the Council.

But Moore is not required by law to hold public hearings, formally introduce resolutions and hold public meetings with citizens before she sends her budget to the Council. In contrast, the County Council is required by the Charter to render decisions, advertise them to the public, hold public hearings and conduct formal legislative sessions before a budget is adopted.

In addition, for the past two years the County Council has sought the advice of a Citizens’ Budget Advisory Panel to review the executive’s budget proposal. The Council has also conducted a busy schedule of multiple budget worksession hearings at which individual department heads – and independent agencies such as the Sheriff’s Department– have testified in detail about their budgetary needs and proposals. This year, the advisory panel members participated in those departmental discussions and had the opportunity to ask their own questions.

The County Executive already holds the majority of power in budget matters under the county Charter, empowered to propose a budget that the County Council cannot increase or re-allocate to reflect differing priorities. The council is only empowered to cut spending proposed in the executive’s budget, with the exception of some education allocations. The County Executive also has the power to propose budget amendments throughout the year as priorities and economic conditions change, asking the Council to approve additional spending or re-allocation of funds among county departments.

At Tuesday’s County Council worksession, Councilor Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2) seemed to be on board with Moore’s Charter revisions. Bowlsbey headed a local citizen’s group that drafted the current Charter that was approved by voters in 2010.

“We could do it quicker,” Bowlsbey said, adding that the Council could expedite its department heads’ budget worksessions so as to accommodate the tighter time frame for council review of the budget under Moore’s proposals.

“That concerns me,” Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4) said of the abbreviated schedule that the Council would have for budget review. “The public has to weigh in,” on the budget, Broomell added, and citizens would have less time to learn about the budget and its implications.

Winston Robinson, the county executive’s Director of Finance, said the administration “was not trying to shrink” the County Council’s review period. But the calendar of Moore’s proposals show that is exactly the end result of the requested Charter amendments.

Robinson sought to bolster the administration’s case for the Charter changes by saying he “could not guarantee” that county property tax bills would be sent to local residents by the usual July 1 date unless the budget was approved by the drop-dead date for the Council to act. Robinson’s statement seemed to hold weight with Bowlsbey, who said that she was concerned that citizens would be upset if they did not get their property tax bills by July 1.

The proposed budget revisions to the Charter bear the pencil-pushing mark of Robinson, an accountant with considerable skills in fiscal management but zero political skills. (He lost overwhelmingly in a bid for County Executive in the Democratic primary in the 2012 local election.) The new Charter revisions make Moore look like she is pursuing a power grab—even if that is not her actual intent and she is simply listening to fiscal advisers with their own bureaucratic rationales.

Even the most civic-minded county citizens who try to be informed on local issues would be hard-pressed to learn about and evaluate the county budget proposals with a more compressed schedule for citizen and Council review. And the County Council itself—which will have new members elected in the November general election, following the primary elections that ousted two incumbents—will have a learning curve for the upcoming budget that will be proposed next year.

The current County Council should decline to approve these proposed Charter revisions. But if the proposals do end up on the November ballot, voters should reject them as an improper intrusion on the rights, and voices, of citizens who should be heard in important local budget matters.

[UPDATE: The County Council has scheduled a "special legislative session" to hold a public hearing on the proposed Charter amendments. The hearing will be held at 7 p.m. 7/29/14 at the county administration building in Elkton.]

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12 Responses to Cecil County Exec Proposes Charter Changes to Give Her More Time–and a Heavy Hammer– on Budget; Cuts Time For County Council, Citizen Input

  1. Joe C on July 9, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    Just what the taxpayers need, a government that can spend money faster with little oversight! It does not surprise me because they are going to have to raise taxes and fees to cover their run away spending. This way they have more cover because public input would be limited and the council can claim they did not have enough time! Just like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of OZ..Your tax dollars went that way, while pointing in different directions!

  2. Mike R on July 10, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Joe C, there are very few things that I agree with you and Broomell on but I must say that I totally agree with you on this issue. As it stands I was never in favor of charter government although the prior form wasn’t great either.

    I am very disappointed in the County Executive’s performance since she took office. She’s taking the democratic route and is becoming a dictator like someone else in federal gov’t that will rename nameless. Citizens need more control and more time to comment, not less. On the other hand, county government is currently a one way street, my way or the highway. We need to stop government spending!

    • RDF 1 on July 10, 2014 at 3:51 pm

      Solutions?

    • Joe C on July 11, 2014 at 5:57 pm

      Thank you!

  3. Ron on July 10, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    As a taxpayer I agree to the “stop government spending”. However, if I was on the library board, I would want more dollars, if on school board, I would want more, social services, more, etc., etc. When all the departments stop crying for more and more and the taxpayers stop demanding more, then maybe we can stop a lot of the government spending.
    So where do you wish to start with the stop government spending and what would you do to see it happen?

    • Ron Lobos on July 11, 2014 at 6:48 am

      Money to fund these departments doesn’t just appear out of thin air. I think it should be required that anyone requesting more funds for their chosen department must also state which department budget must be cut and by how much to come up with these additional funds. It is only then that these requests will be put into their proper perspective. Increasing their own taxes (not mine) to cover all of these spending requests can also be an option.

      • Joe C on July 11, 2014 at 5:32 pm

        We need zero based budgeting for the departments, then we can really see where the money is being spent!

  4. Jeannette H on July 11, 2014 at 9:31 am

    Those of us on fixed incomes have to modify our budgets to make ends meet because of increased taxes everywhere, expecially in Maryland. Let the county cut their expenses as well.

    This is getting me started again on this over $2.2 million they contracted to spend for animal control with that Delaware group that didn’t even have a shelter before the county gave them taxpayer money. That’s a ludicrous amount of money for dog catching, besides the fact that they are in breach of their contract with the county and no one cares. And the problem isn’t fixed; there are even more cats running wild in this county than there ever was…

    The county government should reduce the number of chief muckymucks, that would save plenty of money. Why do we need a County Executive and Administrator who just hold each others hand? Just waste after more waste after more waste. Government should be small, should be fiscally responsible and should have the best interest of the people living in this county. That surely is NOT happening. Maybe my ideas are simple but if they work at my house, why would they not work for government?

    • Joe C on July 11, 2014 at 5:34 pm

      JH,
      AMEN!

    • Ron on July 12, 2014 at 9:35 am

      Agree with all three of your paragraphs.
      The last paragraph is interesting. The charter says we are to have a county executive and an administrator. Maybe the charter should be revamped and eliminate one position. Unlike the council and former commissioners which are/were classified as part time positions,(although some put in more than a full work week), the county executive is a paid full time position. Thinking along that line, why do we need both?

    • RDF 1 on July 12, 2014 at 10:40 am

      Compare your duties and responsibilities in operating your household to those of operating the county. Research state and federal mandates. Research the amount of money the state now withholds from the county while still collecting our state taxes. Review the duties and responsibilities of the County Executive and Administrator as well as their work schedules. Their compensation is a bargain compared to private industry.

      The Animal Care and Control contract was brought to you courtesy of Mullin, Broomell, and Dunn. Hopefully it will be voided.

      • Joe C on July 14, 2014 at 8:23 am

        It is only a bargain if they deliver good quality service, unfortunately this seems not to be the case, the latest is some people with multiple properties are not getting their tax bills. When they call to complain, they were sent one of the multiple ones due. Question is why? Who is this happening to? The only thing I know is the taxpayer loses again and Charter is NOT Cheaper as we were sold by Friends of Charter!

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OUR CECIL COUNTY DELEGATE DELIVERED (Part 3)

Supporting Our First Responders

*Secured Mobile Command Unit Bus

*Helped obtain land for Perryville Fire Station 16

*Fought for traffic signal devices to aid emergency vehicles

*Hosted security/safety workshop on crude oil transports

And More to Come
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