Cecil Co Exec Hornberger Budget Gives Penny Property Tax Cut, State Minimum to Schools; Deputies Get “Blue Ribbon” but No ‘Green’ Pay

April 4, 2022


Cecil County Executive Danielle Hornberger (R) submitted her proposed Fiscal 2023 budget to the County Council on 4/1/2022, providing a penny cut on the property tax rate, the minimum state-required aid level for county schools and Cecil College, and a “Blue Ribbon Commission” to look at law enforcement pay scales—but no extra pay beyond their current bare bones union contract.

The one indication that Hornberger may have begun listening to upset county residents was her attempt to make up in part for her Fiscal 2022 assault on the county public libraries, which suffered the deepest cuts of any agency in the current budget. That policy forced major cutbacks in public services– while also making library staff the only county employees to receive no cost of living pay raises this budget year. While other county employees received 1.5 percent COLAs last summer and up to an additional 6 percent in the past few months, library workers would belatedly get a 6 percent COLA effective 7/1/2022—but they would still be behind other county workers who will get another 1.5 percent COLA in July on top of their FY22 pay boosts.

The County Council begins its review of the budget on Tuesday (4/5/2022) when Hornberger will appear before the Council, along with James Appel, the county Director of Finance. Council members may have many questions, including why Appel chose to omit comparative budget numbers for the original, Fiscal 2022 adopted budget and instead only show “revised” FY22 budget numbers. Several Councilors have raised questions throughout the year about where money spent by the administration is coming from and sought information on how they are accounting for a massive infusion of state and federal grants related to the COVID pandemic.

In addition, the new budget goes through some gyrations to obscure the amount of salary payments to some department heads in the Hornberger administration, such as linking top officials pay with that of underlings, including the Director of Emergency Services and an administrative assistant, and the County Attorney and other employees.

The budget documents do not exactly inspire confidence in their truth and accuracy when the key “Budget in Brief” overview conveniently omits a zero to make it look like the administration is delivering a whopping 26-cent cut in the property tax rate, when in fact it is really just a penny. Digging down into detailed charts and comparing them with the current FY22 budget, the penny-only change is discovered. But most casual readers might only look at the generalized ‘budget in brief’ document and be misled.

The ‘budget in brief’ document alleges that Hornberger is “cutting the real property tax rate from 1.279 to 1.0143 per hundred dollars” of assessed property value. In fact, the new budget would just cut the property tax rate from $1.0279 per $100 of assessed property value to $1.0143, or a reduction of 1.3 cents. In practical terms, the new property tax rate would translate into a whopping $40.80 per year reduction on the property tax bill for a house valued at $300,000.

On the burger scale, that amounts to one small burger and mini-fries order on the drive-through “value menu” per month.

But even the mini-burger bonus will be omitted for many homeowners who will face higher property value assessments from the state Department of Assessments and Taxation, which sets the property values on which local county taxes are based. Indeed, the Hornberger budget acknowledges as much and notes that it expects property tax revenues to rise by $1.66 million in Fiscal 2023.

One potentially positive sign in the new budget is that this year, Hornberger and her local fiscal functionaries are paying attention to state rules for schools funding. Last year, she claimed she didn’t know what the state mandated “maintenance of effort” (MOE) requirements were for the county schools and underfunded CCPS—despite the fact that most other counties in the state were paying attention and provided the correct level of aid in their adopted budgets. But Hornberger had to come back, just a week or so after the local budget was adopted, and forced the Council to approve an extra $2.1 million taken from county emergency “fund balance” accounts to comply with state education budget requirements.

The new budget provides just the FY2023 state mandated MOE level of operating funds for the schools, $89.2 million, up from the previous year’s MOE of $88.5 million.

For the libraries, which suffered a more than $366,000 cut in Hornberger’s FY22 budget, the county executive belatedly added about $189,000 back beginning last July, sources said, but the money still fell short of what was needed. Days of operation at the two south county libraries in Cecilton and Chesapeake City were significantly reduced and staffing at the new North East public library fell short of needed levels. In the new budget, Hornberger will allow hiring of four part-time librarians countywide. As the new budget was unveiled, Hornberger’s closest Council ally, Jackie Gregory (R-5) engaged in Facebook attacks over the weekend claiming that library “management” failed to do their jobs properly to avoid cutbacks in hours of service, rather than acknowledging the impact of the reduced funds imposed by Hornberger’s current budget.

Meanwhile, Hornberger, who routinely professes her verbal support for county law enforcement, continued her fiscal policy of refusing to provide pay boosts beyond the letter of previously negotiated union contracts with the FOP that represents Sheriff’s deputies. Even as she gave surprise 6 percent pay boosts to a wide array of county employees mid-fiscal year recently, she excluded unionized deputies from the pay party.

Instead, her new budget proposes creation of a “Blue Ribbon Compensation Commission” to study law enforcement pay scales here and in nearby agencies, which have been actively recruiting Cecil County deputies who are greatly underpaid in comparison with other areas. The new budget proposes spending $10,000 on the commission.

Responding to a state mandate for increased oversight of police agencies, the new budget would spend $296,688 on a “police accountability board” to review police actions and citizen complaints. But an eye-opening allocation is a $100,000 salary figure for hiring a “professional” to oversee the operation. (Could this be yet another opportunity for another Annapolis political consultant to find a job in Cecil County government?)

One item that has been on the Sheriff’s wish list for quite some time is creation of an in-county training firing range, since a previously used state facility in Elk Neck has become overcrowded and operating with limited hours. The budget calls for $2 million to develop a training facility and firing range in cooperation with the Newark, DE police department, which will contribute to the long-term costs.

And there will be a furry staff addition to the Sheriff’s office, with $60,000 allocated to recruitment and training of four new K9 officers. They will replace other doggie officers, with updated training to downplay sniffing out marijuana, since recreational pot usage is expected to be legalized under legislation placing the issue on the November election ballot.

For the county’s volunteer fire companies, equipment aid would provide four new ambulances, for Cecilton, Chesapeake City, North East, and Port Deposit, at a cost of $125,000 each. Two fire engines, for Chesapeake City and Rising Sun, would be allocated, a cost of $325,000 each. The total major equipment purchase allocation for FY 23 is $1.13 million, down from a “revised” FY22 amount of $1.26 million.

For much of the past year, members of the County Council have been asking the Hornberger administration for accounting of and plans for the $19.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal COVID economic recovery funds allocated to the county in two installments, half in 2021 and the other half due to arrive this month. For the first time, the new budget suggests two relatively small possible allocations of ARPA funds.

The budget proposes allocating $175,000 in ARPA funds to pay for hoses, ladders, and pumps for the Volunteer Fire Companies.

UPDATED: Another ARPA allocation would be used to match grants from the state’s state’s Neighborhood Connect Grant program of the Office of Statewide Broadband. Approval of the state grants, totaling $12.8 million, was announced 6/6/2022. The county will use $900,000 in ARPA funds to cover the required county matching funds contribution.

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2 Responses to Cecil Co Exec Hornberger Budget Gives Penny Property Tax Cut, State Minimum to Schools; Deputies Get “Blue Ribbon” but No ‘Green’ Pay

  1. Sylvia camors on April 6, 2022 at 10:12 am

    Why do we not have a stipulation that department/ commission heads must come from the county? It seems that locals would have the best interest of the county in mind. We should keep those funds in the county. Is it true that Hornberger is eyeing the Governor’s seat. I hope the job she does in CC would impact her chances

    • Pamela Howard on April 9, 2022 at 7:49 am

      Better yet… Why not have a requirement that department heads and other appointed officials have actual, hands-on experience in the their area of responsibility? It’s time to tweak the charter.

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