Cecil County Budget: Moore Boosts Exec Spending, Cuts County Council $ for Advisers; Employee Health Costs Explode

April 24, 2015
By

NEWS ANALYSIS

Cecil County Executive Tari Moore’s new proposed budget would boost her own office’s spending by 3.2 percent while cutting the County Council’s current budget by 4.2 percent, especially in accounts that could enable the Council to hire independent advisers to review or challenge her policies.

In addition, county employees have a “Cadillac” health care program that provides such privileged benefits that the plan could face federal tax penalties in the next few years unless benefits are scaled back to more reasonable levels, according to the county’s Human Resources director. In Moore’s new Fiscal 2016 budget proposal, county employee health costs are projected to rise 31.6 percent.

[CORRECTION: County Director of Administration Al Wein advised Cecil Times that the County Executive does not receive health care benefits. Our initial report said she was entitled to those benefits, while County Councilors were barred from benefits. Wein says both legislative and executive branch elected officials do not get benefits.]

In her budget plan, Moore cut 4.2 percent from the County Council’s proposed operating budget, focusing her cuts on areas, such as professional consulting services, that might enable the Council to challenge her policies or receive independent advice on key issues affecting the county.

In particular, Moore imposed a 20 percent cut in the County Council’s “professional services” line item. Most recently, that account was used to hire the noted Baltimore economist, Anirban Basu, to advise the Council on ways to challenge the state’s huge toll increases on the Hatem Bridge that have negatively impacted businesses in, and traveling to, Cecil County. But that account could also be used by the Council to hire other independent experts to review the executive’s policies and proposals.

Moore also made a $14,000 cut in the Council’s “outside” legal counsel fund that has been used recently to advise the panel on zoning issues coming before the Council for final decisions. But that account could also be used to hire independent legal advisors to review actions and advice by the County Attorney who serves both the Council and the County Executive. County Attorney Jason Allison, who is now a full-time paid county employee, provides general legal advice to the Council and primarily serves the County Executive, and reports to Moore in the administrative chain of command.

County Council members receive a paltry $25,000 a year salary, with no benefits, under the county Charter. Moore is paid $98,000 a year.

While the executive proposed a cut for the County Council by 4.2 percent over the current budget year, she proposed a 3.2 percent increase in spending for her own County Executive budget in Fiscal 2016, in comparison with the current budget year. Within her own administrative budget, she calls for a 32.4 percent boost in spending for “supplies and materials.”

In her overall budget, which is now under review by the County Council, Moore is proposing a 2 percent property tax rate increase for all county property owners and a wide variety of other user fee boosts for county citizens and businesses, as well as a significant tax rise on real estate transactions that could boost the costs of a home purchased for $300,000 by $1,500 in new fees.

Meanwhile, during a recent County Council budget review session, the county’s Human Resources Director, Donna Nichols, explained that rising health care costs are an increasing burden for the county budget. But premium boosts would be split equally between employees and the county government (taxpayers), she said.

So for a family (consisting of three or more people, with no limit on the number of children in the family who would be covered for the same cost), the current biweekly cost paid by an employee of $102 would rise to $117. (The county is self-insured, meaning that it pays the actual costs of medical care, although it hires an outside administrator to review and handle claims processing and there is a “stop loss” insurance factor that limits the county’s per year, per employee costs to $200,000 in medical expenses.)

Nichols explained that recently the county has had several high-cost medical cases that boosted expenses, and she noted that just one employee with cancer or a devastating accident can skew the self-insured county’s costs.

Nichols also explained that under the federal “Affordable Care Act” the generous health care benefits that Cecil County provides to its employees would be considered a “Cadillac” plan—that would be subject to tax code penalties in the future because it is considered too generous and not cost-effective.

The federal “Cadillac” health plan penalties do not take effect until 2018, Nichols said, so the county has time to re-configure its employee health benefits to “shift more costs to employees” so as to avoid penalties. (So county employees might have to drive a Honda Civic of health benefits instead of a luxury vehicle?)

The rising costs of health care affect all business operators, and the county government is not alone in facing that problem. But private employers have often coped with that problem by cutting benefits and/or shifting a rising proportion of the costs to employees. But the Cecil County government is, so far, addressing that issue by keeping benefits largely as is and equally bearing the higher costs with employees, according to Moore’s budget.

In other areas of Moore’s administrative budget proposals, there are several county government department heads who earn more money than Moore— whose salary is specified by the county charter. Top earner, at $123,273, is, as would be expected, county Director of Administration Al Wein—a veteran county employee who almost single-handedly ran the county government with integrity and competence during many years of the part-time County Commissioner form of government. (When an earthquake shook the county government seat several years ago, it was no surprise that county emergency officials spirited Wein off to the emergency operations center to oversee the emergency response.)

Richard Brooks, the Department of Emergency Services director, is the next highly compensated county employee, earning $114,691, according to the new budget, to oversee radio dispatch of emergency 911 calls, various emergency preparedness operations and three paramedic ambulance units.

In contrast, the independently-elected Sheriff—who is in charge of all law enforcement, anti-drug initiatives and multi-agency task forces, the county Detention Center and Community Corrections operations, earns just $75,075 in Fiscal 2016—under legislation approved by the General Assembly in 2014. (The outgoing former Sheriff Barry Janney had proposed a higher figure for his successor—before current Sheriff Scott Adams had been nominated to run for office—but Tari Moore cut Janney’s proposal to specify a lower figure for the Sheriff in her recommendations to the General Assembly, which then followed her lead to cut the Sheriff’s salary boost.)

Moore’s new budget proposal gives Brook’s Emergency Services department a 14.5 percent total budget increase.

In contrast, Moore denied Sheriff Adams’ law enforcement agency a request for five new patrol deputies to replace officers re-assigned to anti-drug special units as part of Adams’ re-structuring of the agency to address drug issues since he took office in December. Adams voluntarily cut the Detention Center budget, but Moore cut additional funds from that program.

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4 Responses to Cecil County Budget: Moore Boosts Exec Spending, Cuts County Council $ for Advisers; Employee Health Costs Explode

  1. Jeannette Houle on April 25, 2015 at 10:20 am

    Has this woman lost her mind? The types and percentages of increase she is putting forth are typical of Democrats, not Republicans. It’s no wonder she was so devious and changed her party affiliation once she was elected. Does she think she is Obama Jr?

    Our only hope for this county is that the Council members step up to the plate and cut her foolish spending. Emergency Services certainly does not take precedent over the Sheriff’s office in my opinion. I really must ask, what do they do besides EMT and ambulance work? It’s not like Cecil County has many disasters every month, even year.

    When was the last time Brooks life was on the line? Probably never while in that position. But yet, Moore has the audacity to cut the sheriff’s office, particularly in this day and age when the officers are on the firing line daily.

    This county can live with fewer overpaid department heads. Department heads should be multi tasking, not building their own empires like Moore is. What has Moore done for this county since she has been elected except to put more and more burden on the taxpayer and lining her proverbial pocket and embellish her job.

    Let’s really hope that the Council has better sense than to approve such a “platinum” gilded budget and says NO loud and clear. Step up to the plate County Council and tell Moore NO MORE TAXES and NO MORE INCREASES. We “the people” elected a Republican slate for a reason, hoping that government spending would be controlled. Haven’t seen it yet, it’s time for citizens to start speaking out on behalf of ourselves.

    Obviously the County Executive doesn’t give a damn about the citizens who elected her. I hope the next slate for County Executive has a competent, intellectual, and cost effective individual that will become a much more effective executive so that we can vote this self serving Moore out of office.

  2. Mike R on April 30, 2015 at 11:09 am

    I don’t see much of a response from your readers on this topic which should be on everyone’s agenda. Increase taxes, increased spending; it’s got to stop. Tari Moore is out of control and needs to be stopped in her tracks. County Council members have the authority to cut her budget and hopefully they will do their job and cut considerably.

    We do not need any more of the taxpayers money ending up in the pocket of the County. A couple hundred bucks to her may be pocket change but it sure is a lot of money to those of us on fixed incomes.

  3. Harold McCanick on May 1, 2015 at 6:49 am

    What is “a couple hundred” on top of way too much? WAY TOO MUCH PLUS A COUPLE HUNDRED BUCKS. council needs to send this budget back to Tari Moore with a bunch of red Xs on it. She then needs to give it back to Winston Robinson and tell him “You’re Fired!”.

    He is a big city liberal democrat tax and spender that I am sure is behind this budget. I feel sorry for Al Wein who has to read this garbage into the record. RISE UP PEOPLE,BE HEARD!

  4. Ron Lobos on May 3, 2015 at 8:58 am

    I can’t believe so little has changed since Cecil County took on Charter Government. If health care expenses have risen so much in the past year, maybe it is time to do what we do in the private sector and tell the employees they will have to pay a larger portion out of their own salary to cover it. Why should I have to pay for my own increase in health insurance and theirs?

    Also, maybe it is time to tighten our belt on all government employees. Currently, a Cecil County employee gets 20 days vacation, 12 holidays off, 12 days sick leave and 5 personal days off, all with pay. And now the County executive expects me to pick up their increase in health care expenses. I think not.

    I am asking the County Executive and all 5 Council members to honor their written promise to the citizens of Cecil County and pass a budget that doesn’t increase our taxes. “Remember, A Promise is a Promise”. We are about to find out how honorable all of these elected officials really are.

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