Taxes, Tears, and Cecil County Council: Lame Duck Quacks, Belatedly

September 24, 2014

“Now, if there’s a smile on my face,
It’s only there tryin’ to fool the public…
I’m hurt and I want you to know,
But for others I put on a show…
The tears of a clown,
When there’s no one else around.”
–Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder: “Tears of a Clown”

There weren’t many folks around at the Cecil County Council’s Tuesday morning 9/23/14 worksession but those who were there were treated to a political performance that purported to be about cutting taxes but was really about lame duck Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4) trying to settle some old scores with other Council members.

Tax policies and their delicate balance with revenues needed to operate essential county services are serious business and should be discussed in a detailed, deliberate manner. But Broomell offered two major tax-cutting proposals in bare-bones fashion– they could have been written on a cocktail napkin, with room to spare– and without details of the revenue impact on county services or which services might have to be cut due to reduced revenues.

And the timing of her proposals—after a previously announced deadline for submission of new legislation for enactment before a Charter-established cut-off for Council action in an election year—indicated the intent was more verbal sparring than substantive legislative deliberation.

Broomell proposed cutting the county’s income tax rate from .0280 percent to .0237 percent. This so-called “piggyback tax” is collected by the state on top of the state income tax paid by residents and businesses operating in the county, but the county’s share is turned over to the county’s coffers by the state. She said she wanted to go back to the rate that was used some 15 years ago.

“Did you analyze the lost revenues that would come about,” as a result of the proposal, asked Council President Robert Hodge (R-5).

“That’s part of the conversation; how do we prioritize some cuts” in spending to offset lost revenues, Broomell said. But she offered no concrete proposals on what services to cut.

“I would have thought you would have done your homework,” Hodge said.

County Director of Finance Winston Robinson interjected that the income tax proposal would cut at least $7.7 million a year from county revenues and he predicted such a cut “would result in deleted services” such as drug enforcement, pothole repairs and “probably a reduction in the Sheriff’s force.”

Broomell then sang one of her favorite tunes—complaining about the county’s drug and alcohol council—and belted out the chorus, “the County Council chooses to keep the people in charge who have lied to us.”

Hodge hit his gavel, telling Broomell to stick to the substance of her proposal, and then inquired, “So slashing the budget entirely would help?”

“We don’t spend $8 million on the drug issue,” observed Councilor Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2) and she noted that the county’s Charter and its strategic plan require a balanced budget—so lost revenues would have to be offset by spending cuts.

“You’re talking out of both sides of your mouth,” Broomell said, accusing Bowlsbey of not living up to the fiscal restraint she promised in her election campaign.

“You ran on a lot of things, Diana, and you lost,” Bowlsbey declared.

Broomell came in third in the June Republican primary for the District 4 seat and she will be out of her county job when a new Council member is sworn in in early December. Bowlsbey won the GOP primary for her seat and is a candidate on the general election ballot in November.

“Why didn’t you come up with this six months ago instead of ramming it through in the last three weeks” of her term of office, Bowlsbey asked Broomell.

Hodge said it was “irresponsible” for Broomell to offer the bare bones proposals now, as “a lame duck” councilor who is “walking out the door, turning off the lights” and leaving it to other Council members to “pick up the pieces.”

He characterized her proposals as “a political ploy” and said, “This is a political game you’re trying to play; this is not serious business.”

The Council never brought her proposals to a vote, and Broomell’s frequent silent partner, Councilor Michael Dunn, was absent. Dunn has missed several council sessions since he was defeated for re-election in the Republican primary in District 3.

Throughout the morning, there were more retorts and re-visiting of past Broomell grudges against fellow Councilors and some additional targets, including members of the audience who at times burst into laughter or gasps at some of the rhetorical flourishes.

“You need to be quiet out there,” Broomell admonished, and then cited some individuals by name and occupation or their perceived allegiances.

And Robinson came in for the Broomell treatment as well: she said “his attitude is very poor” and claimed that Hodge had once said Robinson’s “attitude is terrible.” (Hodge denied the claim.)

If Robinson is the newest member of the ‘bad attitude club’ he has plenty of company among others who have been the targets of Broomell’s ire in the past: members of the local news media, Hodge, Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1), Bowlsbey, County Executive Tari Moore, county Attorney Jason Allison, Harford County Councilwoman Mary Anne Lisanti, county “drug czar” Ken Collins, the county Health Department, state transportation officials, etc., etc., etc.

McCarthy said that Broomell showed “a lack of decorum and you obviously don’t have any manners.”

After several unsubstantiated claims by Broomell that various council members had used their positions to “benefit” personal business or financial interests, McCarthy had had enough.

He stood up, tapped Hodge on the shoulder and inquired, “Mr. President, may I be excused?” Hodge responded, “No,” but McCarthy picked up his coffee cup and began to leave anyway.

“Mr. McCarthy is walking out,” Broomell declared.

“Yes I am; this is insanity,” McCarthy said, shaking his head in disbelief as he headed out of the room.

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5 Responses to Taxes, Tears, and Cecil County Council: Lame Duck Quacks, Belatedly

  1. Dawn George on September 24, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    The only sensible action accomplished at this meeting was the fact that despite being denied by Councilman Hodge to be excused, Councilman McCarthy left anyway. Finally, a member of our Council realizing what a 3 ring circus he is involved in, with the ringmaster Hodge who has no control or clue what to do.

    Cecil County is and will remain a 3 ring circus until the entire council with possibly the exception of McCarthy is replaced. When a county has a County Executive that runs with a closed door policy that is a very bad sign.

  2. Diana Broomell on September 26, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    This topic on the work session agenda was included to further explore a conversation on possible future reductions on the income tax and the business inventory tax. When the question was raised how would I make up the $7.7 million in lost revenue from the proposed reduction, I discussed improving the current spending habits of the Council and County Executive. We have increased our long term debt to the highest in Cecil County history of $210 million which included capital projects not in priority funding areas and $30 million too much for Seneca Point’s Treatment Plant. I also asked that if they didn’t support the reduction of our income tax from 60% to 50% of the Maryland State Tax, what would they support. No answer.

    I also mentioned implementing performance measures on County Departments which justified increased budgets to address the substance abuse issue. Without scrutiny how can we ensure tax payer money is being used effectively? One performance measure you can’t ignore is the overdose rate. Cecil County continues to have the highest overdose rate in the State of Maryland with 10 overdose deaths reported in the first quarter. Clearly, we can do better.

  3. determinedcitizen on September 27, 2014 at 9:50 am

    I agree, Councilor Broomell – clearly, we can do better.
    Starting right after you and Councilor Dunn are replaced.

  4. David Neff on September 28, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Time to vote everyone out!

    • Politics for Dummies on October 6, 2014 at 8:44 am

      I agree with David – time to vote everyone out. That will include voting Tari Moore out when her term finally ends. This County continually wastes and misappropriates our hard earned tax dollars with little to no regard. I, for one, am totally embarrassed by the Republican representation in this County. Maybe it’s time to start voting agenda vs. party because the majority of “politicians” are corrupt and manipulate truths — that is, lie.

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