BULLETIN: Councilor Gregory Targets Emergency Services, Library, Parks for Cecil Co Budget Cuts; Worksession, Council Votes Expected Today

May 19, 2020

Cecil County Council member Jackie Gregory (R-5) has drafted a list of budget cuts for the proposed Fiscal 2021 county budget that will be considered today (5/19/2020), with no advance public notice, that particularly targets county library, parks, and emergency services, including paramedics responding to emergency calls during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Gregory, who is running for re-election in the June 2 Republican primary, was still writing and re-writing her proposals late Monday night and is expected to offer amendments to the budget during a Council worksession that is slated to begin at 3.30 p.m. on Tuesday. The Council is meeting via videoconferencing and is also scheduled to vote on the full Fiscal 2020 budget during an evening legislative meeting that will also be conducted remotely.

It is the first time in two years that Gregory, a routine critic of the county budget, has actually offered a list of amendments and sought formal votes on spending cuts. For the past two years she has just offered a few verbal suggestions, such as a possible $140,000 cut in parks operating funds last year, and instead called for using emergency reserve funds to lower the property tax rate, which has been frozen at its current level since 2017.

The budget proposed by County Executive Alan McCarthy for Fiscal 2021, which begins on July 1, retains the current property tax rate and balances spending and revenues without raiding the county’s emergency reserve funds. McCarthy has made it a cardinal rule of his administration that he will not support deficit spending by raiding the reserve funds. Those funds were drawn down to dangerously low levels by his predecessors and upon taking office in 2017, McCarthy instituted a new policy of rebuilding the reserves so they would be available in case of an unexpected fiscal crisis. (Viral pandemics and related economic turmoil weren’t on the radar screen at that time.)

A draft list of Gregory’s amendments obtained by CECIL TIMES claims operating budget cuts amounting to $2.8 million, but county budget officials calculate the figure at $2.3 million. Several of the programs she targets are not financed by taxpayer funds and are unrelated to the property tax rate—such as grant items or “impact aid” from the Hollywood Casino in Perryville. (County officials have already alerted agencies that VLT aided projects will be put on hold until the casino is allowed to re-open by the state; for example, a $50,00 project to repair soccer fields at Cecil College was already put on the back burner.)

Gregory’s budget cuts hit the Department of Emergency Services (DES) particularly hard at a time when emergency responders have been under additional pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Gregory would cut $200,000 from overtime pay for paramedics and $300,000 from public safety officers extra hours pay.

DES officers have been pressed into service for aiding the health department in emergency response such as the COVID-19 mass testing of 320 agricultural workers in Warwick and responding to area nursing homes to provide “personal protection equipment” to staff and residents and assesss their needs.

In addition, paramedics facing the front lines of the virus while treating and transporting possibly contagious patients are also having to expand time-consuming disinfecting of ambulances and equipment.

Gregory would also cut $300,000 in overtime pay for corrections officers and staff at the county Detention Center under the Sheriff’s budget. Sheriff Scott Adams has said the inmate population has been lower than usual since courts are closed due to the virus and fewer defendants are being sentenced or remanded to custody while awaiting a trial at some point in the future. But the jail continues to house convicted criminals serving sentences of up to 18 months and dangerous defendants ordered held without bail pending trial.

Retaining corrections officers has always been a problem, due to the difficulties of the job, and cuts to overtime pay would make an already tough job even less tolerable and potentially threaten security at the facility if there are staffing gaps in the 24/7 operations there.

Gregory also targets the county library system, cutting $215,889 in operating funds. The library already faced limits under McCarthy’s budget so that no new staff could be hired for the new library in North East that is slated to open in late 2020. The library would have to juggle staff from other assignments to open the new and expanded facility, but Gregory’s cuts would make the task even harder.

Gregory is being opposed in the Republican primary election by Don Harmer, the longtime volunteer president of the county’s Board of Parks and Recreation. So it was perhaps not surprising that her budget cuts target several parks programs for a total reduction of $340,000.

But some of her parks and rec cuts are actually for programs that bring in revenues that cover much of their costs, like lacrosse equipment that is purchased initially by the department but reimbursed by players when they join teams participating in the program.

She also cut $2.9 million from the capital budget for continued development of the Calvert Regional Park and another $1.3 million from the proposed turf field at Rising Sun High School. But those capital budget projects financed by long term bonds and have minimal financial impact on the FY21 operating budget that is the basis for the property tax rate.

Also on Gregory’s hit list are:

–$3328,126 for tourism

–$458,106 for the county’s IT department.

County budget officials note that most of that amount is calculated as depreciation costs on technology equipment, software and related items that have already been put into service. It raises questions about what reaction suppliers might have, such as refusal to provide security upgrades or loss of required maintenance services.

CECIL TIMES will be updating our reports on the budget process as it unfolds later in the day. County residents wishing to view and/or listen to the Council proceedings can go to the county website. For the worksession, link here:


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One Response to BULLETIN: Councilor Gregory Targets Emergency Services, Library, Parks for Cecil Co Budget Cuts; Worksession, Council Votes Expected Today

  1. Sharon Rosenberg on May 19, 2020 at 1:08 pm

    Wow. Couldn’t do this earlier so other citizens could comment? Is she getting worried about getting re-elected? Sounds like it to me. Libraries, parks, emergency services–three of the most important services offered to taxpayers.

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