Cecil County Council Fires Shot Across Budget Bow at County Exec On $1.4 Million Extra Spending

February 24, 2015

Members of the Cecil County Council fired shots across the budget bow on Tuesday, warning the County Executive that they expect stronger cost-cutting steps in her new budget to prevent a recurrence of more than $1.4 million in over-budget expenses this year.

At issue before the council members at a worksession in Elkton was the request by County Executive Tari Moore for approval of a budget amendment to account for overspending in multiple accounts during the current budget year. County finance officials have been drafting the budget amendment for about a month, with shifting numbers from preliminary versions previously discussed with the council.

But details of the proposal submitted to the council this week show extra expenses in multiple categories, including higher utility costs, failure by the State’s Attorney’s office to account for a new prosecutor’s salary, snow removal and especially spiraling repair costs for dump trucks and other vehicles serving the Department of Public Works (DPW).

“They really have to do a better job of saving taxpayer dollars,” Councilor Dan Schneckenburger (R-3) said of the county administration. “We’ve got to get a better grip on it.”

Schneckenburger asked Winston Robinson, the county’s Director of Finance, “what did the county executive feel” when advised that expenses were running over budget.

“She was not happy,” Robinson replied.

“My question for the county executive… is what she’s doing about this and what she’s doing to cut costs in the future,” said Council President Robert Hodge (R-5).

The DPW led the cost boosts, with $320,000 in vehicle repair costs, plus $85,000 in vehicle and equipment repairs associated with operations of the county landfill that will be charged against the landfill “enterprise” fund. Scott Flanigan, the DPW director, also said snow removal and related costs have been $732,000 so far this year, exceeding the amount budgeted for that purpose by $332,000. In addition, the agency will need to spend $140,000 extra to re-stock its road salt supplies.

DPW has been tapping other accounts in its budget on an emergency basis to make sure roads were cleared during this winter’s storms, but Flanigan noted that those accounts have to be repaid so the other needed road work and paving can be conducted, especially as the spring pothole filling season arrives.

While Mother Nature may be to blame for the snow costs, County Council members were less forgiving of the management of the county’s fleet of trucks and vehicles. When the council passed the current budget last spring, council members directed that the county administration hire a “fleet manager” to supervise management of all county vehicles and seek to rein in costs. Councilors were not pleased several weeks ago to learn that a fleet manager had not been hired.

Robinson said that steps are now being taken to hire a fleet manager and candidates would be interviewed this week.

Flanigan explained that DPW has been having particular troubles with International brand dump trucks that have had costly repairs even though they are still fairly new. He said the county has had discussions with the manufacturer to seek compensation for some of the repair costs and if necessary might pursue legal remedies since the problems appear to be design or engineering flaws in the trucks.

Other budget overages were reported in telephone costs– $227,000—and $70,000 in higher utility rates for sewer services by the Town of Elkton for the county Detention Center. Natural gas rates and costs also rose, by over $66,000, while electricity costs were nearly $147,000 over budget. Part of the higher phone expenses stem from costly “air cards” used by Sheriff’s Deputies on patrol to access Internet-based law enforcement services on laptop computers in vehicles, as the agency is increasing laptop coverage to all vehicles.

The county is launching a project to shift to LED lighting at the county administration building to save future energy costs, and Delmarva Power will provide a $60,000 grant to offset much of the estimated $104,000 conversion costs.

The State’s Attorney’s office failed to account for the salary of a new prosecutor which was supposed to be included in the current budget as a way to expedite prosecution of drug cases. To correct that error, the proposed budget amendment would add $74,321 to that agency’s budget to cover the costs.

Robinson has come up with an unusual way of paying for the over-budget spending—juggling proceeds of the county’s issuance of borrowing bonds. He and county budget manager Craig Whiteford have emphasized that the county’s unassigned “fund balance” will not be used to pay for the extra costs.

That fund balance has been a major source of money used by Moore to pay for her spending plans while freezing county property tax rates in both of her budgets to date. (Those fiscal cushions were accumulated over many years by the former county Board of Commissioners as a way to safeguard the county’s fiscal future and help get the county better bond ratings that ultimately led to cheaper costs of borrowing to pay for major construction projects such as sewer plant upgrades and school construction.)

Robinson says that the county will juggle its bond funds/ debt service account and allocate the new budget overruns to that account since there are proceeds of bond sales that have not yet been needed for specific projects.

After various offsets and allocations to other funding sources (such as the landfill accounts), Robinson’s plan would tap over $1.2 million from the debt service account.

He said this plan did not draw upon or account for anticipated cost savings from “refunding” some existing bonds, issued in the past at higher interest rates but which are being proposed for re-financing at lower interest costs later this year to save county expenses.

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6 Responses to Cecil County Council Fires Shot Across Budget Bow at County Exec On $1.4 Million Extra Spending

  1. scott on February 25, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    Has anyone done a comparison of in-sourceing fleet repairs instead of paying some out of state company a lot of $ to run it? International trucks are very low quality period. A compitant fleet manager should do a cost of ownership analysis to determine the total cost of purchase, maintenece and repairs over the life of the vehicle.

  2. Ron Lobos on February 26, 2015 at 8:34 am

    Cost overruns and over spending are quickly becoming the hallmark of the Tari Moore administration. I would venture to say that every county department will get in line this year for “Moore money.” If everything goes as it has for the last couple years, Tari Moore will reward the failure of these departments to live within our means. The answer that Tari has been giving us to control the budget has been to give out “Moore and Moore Money” from our reserve fund. Unfortunately, we are running out.

    And now we have the CCPS asking her for an additional $8M that will be paid annually to them for the foreseeable future. Once again, Moore will make excuses for the CCPS and reward them for mismanaging their money. And once again, we will only see Tari Moore show up at a council meeting to make sure that the council is going to pass her budget. She never shows up to listen to the public talk and in 2 years she has only had one Town Hall Meeting.

    From the stand point of a person who works hard to pay their taxes, I would say that this behavior is nothing Moore than “Pitiful”.

  3. Ronald Demmler on February 26, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    Refreshing to read from this article that at least two council members are taking the budget and over spending seriously. Time will tell if it is all talk or for real.

    Also troubling that those in accounting manipulate the money shortage by allocating money from one fund to another- the shuffleboard effect. Some time in the future that shuffling will no longer work. It is time to start holding those responsible for the overspending accountable. After all, it is the department head that has the final say in how his/her department is run.

  4. Roger on February 28, 2015 at 8:42 am

    I agree that our County Executive should have run her carpetbagging campaign slogan as “Moore and Moore money”. That is the shoe that fits her. Less students equals “Moore and Moore money”, recycling at the landfills equals “Moore and Moore money”, selling out taxpayer funded infrastructure equals “Moore and Moore money” and out-sourcing services equals “Moore and Moore money”.

    The ultimate “Moore money” is quoted the yellow journals of the whig: “numerous bottles of methadone, packages of Suboxone, oxycodone pills” are found in possession of drug dealers, which clearly identifies taxpayer dollars funding a black market with “Moore and Moore money” where treatment centers aid addicts to take home doses of suboxone and methadone who then are trading their meds for heroin.

    We should give Tari Moore’s supporters a dose of cold turkey and hope “Citizens United” gets overturned so we get represented by legislators who respond to the needs of voters not corporations looking for tax breaks, free lunches and “Moore and Moore money”.

    • Ronald Demmler on March 2, 2015 at 8:29 pm

      I believe the middle paragraph of Roger’s hits the nail on the head. That is exactly what many do.

  5. Joe C on February 28, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    Same old story, Spend Moore, Tax Moore! I say NO Moore! This is after she pushed through rate increases for sewer service to pay for expanding sewer service to her buddies and campaign donors all on the backs of the current rate payers. Then when it comes time to pay the bond on the sewer project, she is going to allow them to get off scot-free and not pay a dime!

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