Cecil County Exec Proposes 2-Cent+ Property Tax Rate Boost; Schools Pleased with Budget, Sheriff Denied Deputies

April 1, 2015

Cecil County Executive Tari Moore proposed a Fiscal 2016 budget on Wednesday 4/1/15 that would increase property taxes, raise fees for dumping trash at the landfill, and boost public school spending for many, but not all, of the schools’ requests.

The budget proposal would yet again tap the county’s “unassigned fund balance” reserves, which were accumulated over many years by the old county Board of Commissioners as a cushion against fiscal adversity, with a more than $1 million withdrawal applied to spending in the new budget. But that figure is far less than was consumed in each of her past two budgets. (The current budget withdrew $4.l million initially from the reserves but another $400,000 was recently approved by the County Council, for a total hit of $4.5 million in the current budget year.)

For homeowners, the biggest change is a proposed increase from the current property tax rate of .9907 per $100 of assessed property value to $1.01. Moore calculated the increase would cost an owner of a home valued at about $200,000 an extra $45 a year. In her past two budgets, Moore froze the property tax rate with no increases. However, state property value assessments have been rising recently, and the new higher county tax rate could mean substantially higher total property tax bills as property values rise.

If there was a ‘biggest loser’ in Moore’s budget proposal, it was the county Sheriff’s department, which was denied a request for five new deputies for road patrols—to replace deputies reassigned to special units to combat the county’s illegal drug crisis– and three new corrections officers for the expanded detention center. And the jail saw an actual 2 percent reduction in county funds in the new budget in comparison with the current year.

In advance of the county executive’s formal delivery of her budget plan to the County Council, advocates of the county public schools were vocal in public meetings and on social media to demand “full funding” of the Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS) budget. Moore’s budget gives CCPS a $4.5 million increase in spending over the current budget year, or a 5.9 percent boost. That funding level will allow hiring of 15 new employees, including teachers of English as a Second Language (ESOL) and special education teachers. (However, that increase figure includes a mandated state shift of annually-rising teacher pension costs to the county.)

The new budget’s total allocation of $81.4 million in county funds to CCPS (including both operating and capital expenses) is $4.3 million above the state-mandated “maintenance of effort” county funding level for local public schools, to reflect the per-pupil spending level of the previous budget year. (However, the county’s student enrollment is projected to decline in the new budget year.)

Moore’s budget includes funds for the upcoming opening of the new school of technology on the former Basell property in Elkton, security camera systems at North East and Rising Sun middle schools (which were heavily lobbied for by parents) and repairs to tennis and basketball courts in North East and Rising Sun. Also included are needed repairs to masonry failures and leaks at the Cecilton Elementary school.

Cecil County Schools Superintendent Dr. D’Ette Devine said she was “encouraged” by the county executive’s budget proposal. “I’m very pleased,” she said. “We’ve had a very good exchange” with the county executive, Devine said. She was particularly encouraged by Moore’s promised initiative to collaborate with the schools on enhanced maintenance of aging schools and expediting future rehabilitation plans for older schools.

The schools chief said she particularly appreciated Moore’s promise to move forward with planning for overhaul of the Gilpin Manor school that has been lagging on the CCPS capital improvement plan since 2004 without any commitment from the county, until now, to move ahead with the project.

Meanwhile, Moore’s proposed budget uses a number of accounting measures to offset increased spending, including an up-front allocation in the Fiscal 2016 budget of the full $2.5 million in saved interest expenses on long term bonds. The county recently “refunded” (or refinanced) higher-interest bonds dating from several years ago to lower interest bonds due to the current market of lower interest rates paid to bond purchasers.

Budget documents released on Wednesday also compared the new spending allocations to the original Fiscal 2015 budget passed last year by the County Council but did not reflect changes during the current year, including recent extra spending totaling $1.6 million. The County Council recently approved a budget amendment tapping the county’s “fund balance” for an extra over-budget $400,000 and the county’s finance department allocated another $1.2 million in extra expenses to unspent money in its bond accounts.

Moore’s task of crafting a new budget for the fiscal year that begins on 7/1/15 was made easier by the General Assembly’s refusal to go along with multiple state budget-cutting proposals by new Governor Larry Hogan (R) that would have hit Cecil County public schools hard, slashed over $349,000 in casino “impact aid” revenues from the Hollywood casino in Perryville and cut various aid programs benefitting the county.

In particular, Hogan’s initial budget plan would have slashed $1.7 million from CCPS—leaving the prospect of the county having to absorb some of those costs. But Dr. Devine said the schools expect that up to $1.5 million of that proposed state aid cut will be denied by the General Assembly.

In other areas, Moore’s budget also made some policy changes that could yield cost-savings down the road. She proposed consolidating the county’s Housing Department, which is heavily subsidized by state and federal aid funds, with the Senior Services and Transit department. She said that Dave Trolio, the seniors and transit chief, would become chief of the combined department and Dave Mahaney, who runs the housing agency, would have a job in the combined entity but would not be replaced when he retires in a few years.

The county would also offer an employee “buyout” providing a one-time $5,000 payment or one year of county-paid health insurance coverage to encourage veteran workers to leave, so payroll could be cut or higher-paid, long-term employees could be replaced with cheaper workers. County officials said an estimated 28 workers could qualify.

Moore said that she realized residents would be disappointed with her proposed property tax rate increase, after her first two budgets under Charter government froze property tax rates. She said it was “the right decision” to freeze property tax rates during a period of economic downturn but that position could not be sustained on a long-term basis without compromising the county’s quality of life and the need to “invest” in the future.

“It was the prudent thing to do,” Moore said. “After careful consideration,” she said, now was the time to go ahead with a “modest increase” in taxation so as to allow the county to move forward and address needs and services that were held in check during the worst of the economic downturn.

And she said she decided to make a “sustainable” hit on the county’s “fund balance” reserve funds so as to avoid an even higher potential hit—up to 3-cents instead of over 2-cents– on the property tax rate if reserves had not been tapped in the new budget.

(Cecil Times will be filing additional reports on budgets for various departments and programs as we plod through several hundred pages of documents supplied after the executive’s press conference on Wednesday.)

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18 Responses to Cecil County Exec Proposes 2-Cent+ Property Tax Rate Boost; Schools Pleased with Budget, Sheriff Denied Deputies

  1. Mike Barton on April 2, 2015 at 8:54 am

    Finally someone said no to the Sheriff. There are too many cops running around this county now. How about utilizing the deputies you have in a more efficient manner before asking for more.

    Now, if someone will please do something about this take home car program at the Sheriff’s Office. There is a huge waste of tax-payer dollars. Why is a deputy loading groceries into his police car at the grocery store? Why is a deputy using his police car to ferry his kids to Little League or dance class? Where is the benefit to tax-payers or public safety? Can anyone answer that? Why are Cecil County police cars being driven to deputies houses in Delaware and Harford County? Why? Let’s get serious about cutting the budget, please.

    • Brian Arellazano on April 2, 2015 at 10:37 am

      Studies have shown that the use of take home vehicles for law enforcement provide the following benefits:

      – Allows for more rapid response to callouts by not having to report to a central location to get a vehicle prior to responding,

      – Increases level of enforcement as deputies off duty that observe serious violations and criminal activity are obligated to take action,

      – Increases the backup potential for officers on duty, and higher morale of deputies,

      – Lower maintenance costs as deputies take “ownership” and treat vehicles as their own keeping them clean.

      Higher visibility results in a deterrent effect to potential offenders, and fewer miles on vehicles as they do not have to be driven to their patrol area.

    • Jeannette H on April 2, 2015 at 1:30 pm

      Mike Barton, you have got to be kidding. You see no benefit of having Sheriff’s Deputies taking their vehicles home? WOW! You must live on another planet. The simple presence of a Sheriff’s vehicle on the streets, roads and parking lots is a deterrent to mischief and other criminal activities.

      If you want to talk about waste, let’s get to the nitty gritty and discuss animal care and control. Now, that is a waste of taxpayers money, but apparently that’s OK for those individuals to travel the county AND the state of Delaware at all hours with trucks and gas paid for by the taxpayers of Cecil County.

      At least the Deputies can carry and be prepared to assist or intercept a robbery, mugging, car jacking, etc. etc. Having Deputies and their cars on the road is a benefit for the citizens of Cecil County and we are getting a big bang for our buck, unlike other government entities who are allowed to do the same thing with no return on our investment.


  2. Natalie Ricci on April 2, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    This budget falls squarely under the category of you can’t please everybody all the time. I’m quite certain that County Exec Moore gave careful consideration to each and every item. Planning for the future is long overdue and consolidation of departments and retirement buyout packages are something that is occurring in other counties across the US — why not here?

    Law enforcement is never an area where I like to see cuts but perhaps the current funds could be used more effectively, especially in the areas of administration. Do we really need to pay someone MORE than the Sheriff to manage the jail?

    • Ron Lobos on April 5, 2015 at 8:56 am

      Natalie, I agree with you that Tari gave careful consideration to all requests for increased funding to their department. But I would like to add that not enough consideration was given to the majority of people who elected her.

      As we clearly saw during the last election, the voters overwhelmingly elected a governor that promised to cut taxes and reduce government. The Republican Party is supposed to be synonymous with that. The County Executive and every Council member made a commitment on their mailers during the election to fight tax increases.

      Am I supposed to accept this tax increase and just disregard a commitment that was made to get them elected? I contributed many hours of my time as a foot soldier and campaign worker helping these candidates to get elected. Should I look at this breach of trust as a lie or is it just a little fib?

      If I were king of the forest, I’d give careful consideration to finding department heads who can show us that they are capable of operating their departments within the budget that we provide without creating an annual choreographed production before the council that I sometimes refer to as the “Begathon.”

      What is really sad is that you will probably never see any of these parents, students and teachers at the school budget hearing to find out where the money is being spent. But for some reason, they are sold on the belief that more money means a better education. I feel sad for them.

      • Bob Willick on April 8, 2015 at 12:55 pm

        I agree with Ron. It’s not a question of “pleasing everyone.” It is about making good on the promises that you made to those who voted for you.

        • RDF 001 on April 8, 2015 at 2:49 pm

          Campaign for Liberty is all about confrontation and not solutions. How about proposing a budget satisfactory to you? Don’t forget to consider inflation and unfunded state mandates.

      • Natalie Ricci on April 11, 2015 at 11:33 am

        Sometimes even fighting the good fight does not result in you getting what you want. Cutting costs and lowering taxes is a fantastic concept in theory and I’m sure most everyone who says that’s what they want to do, REALLY WANT TO DO IT. But sometimes reality trumps desires.

        The County is growing (albeit slowly) and the cost of practically everything has gone up. Thinking that we can continue to operate on less and less money moving forward is foolhardy. I don’t like paying taxes any more than the next person. But I am a realist.

        • Harold McCanick on April 13, 2015 at 12:51 pm

          Natalie, To insinuate any pertinent department is operating on less is not being honest.

  3. Mike R on April 2, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    I think it’s way time for Mrs. Moore to open her eyes and rethink her budget. There are so many areas which can be cut without even thinking twice. Repairs to tennis and basketball courts, really??? Why??? Those of us on the south side of the Canal do not enjoy the frivolity of tennis and basketball courts.

    With the decline in the number of students why a 5.9% increase in school funding? Why additional teachers? WHY? WHY? WHY?

    The county’s quality of life is our quality of life and those of us on fixed income, social security don’t get the kind of increases that Moore’s budget is proposing.

    But, where the money should really be spent, she has the audacity to decline the increase in Deputies, is this a joke? With Cecil County’s reputation of crime and violence, the law enforcement agency should quite certainly get additional deputies. Again, south of the canal needs additional law enforcement. Cecilton, Warwick, Crystal Beach being the drug infested towns that they are,need law enforcement visible 24/7.

    Come on Tari, screw your head on right and cut those department budgets that we all know are super inflated. No increases in taxes; if citizens buy your reasoning for the property tax increase I would like to sell them the Brooklyn Bridge.

  4. Joe C on April 4, 2015 at 7:44 am

    Really Tari! First your math is wrong as usual. It is not a 2% increase it is more like 10%. Only in your world could 2=10. First you have a 2% increase, then you have the elimination of the 2% discount and then the increase in assessments for some of over 5%, so you see it is closer to 10%.

    The 2% discount was popular with senior citizens on fixed income who need to save money where they can but you just ignore that and in the mean time give more money to a declining school population. Why do we need 15 more teachers when the enrollment is falling and generally has been falling over the last ten years?

    Cut the school budget and provide money to Sherriff Adams so that we can have safe streets again. If we do not have security we have nothing.

    Tari do the county a favor and resign now or at a minimum switch your party affiliation because you do not represent the conservative views of Cecil County. If your friends on the council vote for this misguided budget they should do the same, especially that they all ran on a no tax increase platform.

  5. Ron Lobos on April 4, 2015 at 8:57 am

    I would like to point out at least one statement made by each of our elected officials in a mailer when they were running for elected office. 1) Tari Moore – “Fight Increased Taxes 2)Robert Hodge – “Stop Tax Increases” 3) Alan McCarthy – “I believe in Low Taxes and Small Government” 4) Dan Schneckenberger – “Stop Tax and Fee Increases” 5) George Patchell – “Fight Tax Increases” 6) Joyce Bowlsby – “Fight Tax Increases”.

    All of these representatives were elected by people who believed in them and in what they promised. They need to understand that we voted for representatives who will be truthful and lead us based on their integrity. I promise you, “If they have the courage to lead, we will follow.” (I will follow.)

    I can assure you of one thing, if these representatives had advertised on their mailers that they would be raising the CCPS budget each year by 5-6% and raise our taxes to fund larger government, they would have had a much harder time getting elected in Cecil County.

    • Joe C on April 8, 2015 at 5:36 am

      Which path will the council take? The path of deception of the voters or support for the voters? Do they have the political will to say no? My guess is no, since it is to much a tangled web! My suggestion would be a one-way ticket back to Calif, Utah or Colorado for Ms. Moore!

      • Bob Willick on April 8, 2015 at 12:59 pm

        Council members Hodge, Schneckenburger and Bowlsbey made a verbal commitment to the attendees at the March 17th Council Meeting that they would not cut from Moore’s budget. Regardless of what they do now, they will have lied to someone.

        • RDF 001 on April 8, 2015 at 2:40 pm


          • Joe C on April 12, 2015 at 7:12 pm

            Right they can take that cowardly action since Tari and buddies pushed through the charter change in the last election!!

  6. Mike R on April 9, 2015 at 9:19 am

    If the Republicans vote for this budget, they are no better than the people they replaced. Hasn’t Cecil County had enough political misrepresentation? Do the job you were elected to do. Cut the budget so you can cut taxes, not increase them.

  7. Vince Pfeiffer on April 11, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    There is a simple definition for what has happened in Cecil County: “Bait – n – Switch.”

    The so called lower tax team has outdone themselves in out democrating the democrats by becoming republicrats. Emphasis on “rats.”

    The “good ole boy” politics remain solidly intact…

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