BULLETIN: Cecil County Council Slashes Extra $150K from Sheriff; Delays Land Transfer Tax Briefly

June 2, 2015

In a last-minute move just hours before the Cecil County Council was slated to approve the Fiscal 2016 budget, Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) pushed through another $150,000 cut in the Sheriff Department’s budget Tuesday morning.

Hodge had been angling for weeks for deeper cuts, especially aimed at eliminating the position of head of the Community Corrections unit under the Sheriff Department’s umbrella. The Community Corrections post is now held by Barry Janney, the former Sheriff of Cecil County. But fellow Councilors had been reluctant to go along with Hodge’s plan.

However, Hodge saw his opportunity to resurrect his Sheriff cuts Tuesday morning to come up with money to pay for a proposal by Councilor Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2) for a brief reprieve from County Executive Tari Moore’s imposition of a new property transfer tax. Bowlsbey proposed that people or businesses that had signed a sales/purchase contract as of June 1—prior to the adoption of the new county budget—should pay just the flat $10 fee that was the law of the county when they signed their contracts.

“I just think it’s a fairness issue,” Bowlsbey said, noting that one constituent told her that the cost of a planned property purchase would rise by $6,000 due to Moore’s imposition of a new transfer tax of 0.5 percent based on the sales price of the property. Bowlsbey proposed a brief grace period for already signed sale/purchase contracts, as long as the sales go to final settlement by August 31, 2015.

County Finance Director Winston Robinson estimated her proposal would cost the county up to $300,000 in reduced revenues from Moore’s budget proposal that was counting on over $1,554,878 million from the new transfer tax. Robinson said that July and August traditionally account for heavy volumes of property sales.

Since the Council still had at least $160,000 to $190,000 extra cash on the table from other spending cuts made last Thursday at a special budget worksession, Hodge jumped in with his planned Sheriff’s department cuts as a way to pay for the rest of Bowlsbey’s transfer tax delay.

“I’ve suggested cuts in public safety that have been ignored,” said Hodge, who just last week wanted to cut $250,000 from the Sheriff’s budget but was rebuffed by other councilors. But now, faced with the transfer tax offset, Hodge pushed his agenda item again—this time scaling it back to $150,000 and not specifying where the Sheriff’s budget should be cut. “Let him decide the priorities,” Hodge said.

Hodge claimed that “we have not touched public safety” in the budget so far, but Robinson corrected him, saying that cuts in the Sheriff’s budget already made by the council amounted to $275,000. (And Moore had previously declined the sheriff’s request for hiring and equipping five new deputies.)

Councilors George Patchell (R-4) and Dan Schneckenburger (R-3) refused to go along with the cut in the Sheriff’s budget to pay for the transfer tax delay, while Bowlsbey and Hodge favored the step.

Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1) emphasized he steadfastly opposed the transfer tax on principle and didn’t see the point of a brief delay.

Hodge coaxed him, saying “I’m trying to make a bad thing better” by giving a bit of tax relief to property buyers, and McCarthy eventually went along.

But several hours later, McCarthy told Cecil Times that he had subsequently talked with new Sheriff Scott Adams and had changed his mind and planned to oppose Hodge’s $150,000 new cut in the Sheriff’s budget at the Tuesday evening Council meeting when final action was slated to be taken on the Fiscal 2016 budget.

Meanwhile, after the morning worksession, numbers well still being crunched by Robinson and Council Manager James Massey, with the result there appeared to be an extra $46,000 available for redeployment to spending in the budget.

All told, the council achieved its top priority from the outset of budget deliberations: killing Moore’s planned increase of more than two cents on the local property tax rate. Moore proposed boosting the tax rate from $0.9907 to $1.01 per $100 of assessed property valuation.

The Council had to cut over $2.27 million from Moore’s operating budget to keep the property tax rate at its current level, and did accomplish that goal—after weeks of exhaustive, and exhausting, line-by-line scrutiny of Moore’s budget.

But, in the final hours before bringing down the curtain on this budget process, there could still be some last-minute fights and drama—especially over the Sheriff’s budget—at Tuesday evening’s Council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the county administration building in Elkton.

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2 Responses to BULLETIN: Cecil County Council Slashes Extra $150K from Sheriff; Delays Land Transfer Tax Briefly

  1. C Jayne Mitchell-Werbrich on June 3, 2015 at 11:47 am

    Police Matter!!

  2. Harold McCanick on June 4, 2015 at 7:32 am

    Cecil County law enforcement has something going for them that Fergusen Mo. and Baltimore don’t: WE THE PEOPLE. If riots broke out in this county, looters and rioters would have more than the police to worry about…

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