From the Desk of
County Commissioner Kai Hagen
(May, 2010) On April 6th, the Frederick County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) presented the "Recommended Operating Budget" for Fiscal Year 2011 (FY2011), which begins on July 1 of this year. It's called the "recommended" budget, but it makes more sense,
I think, to refer to it as the "draft" budget.
The draft FY2011 budget will be taken to public hearing, on Tuesday, May 4th at Middletown High School. Many county residents, organizations and institutions will comment on it then, and for a few more weeks by letter, email and other means, before the final budget is adopted on June 1, 2010. The BOCC will almost
certainly make some adjustments during a few public meetings between the public hearing and the final adoption of the budget.
Drafting a budget for the county is a lengthy and complicated process, and an especially challenging one during these difficult economic times. It is also the single most important responsibility of the county commissioners, who must carefully decide how to support our community's needs, priorities and values with
the dollars provided by taxpaying citizens and businesses across the county.
A few basic points:
The county always adopts a balanced budget. If revenues fall below projections during the year, mid-year adjustments are made.
For the last two and a half years, the focus has been on producing a balanced budget by decreasing spending. While Frederick County has fared better than almost everywhere else during the economic downturn - or global recession - we have seen a significant reduction in revenues from almost all sources. The
reductions have included deep cuts from the state. For example, two years ago the county received more than $14 million for our share of State Highway User Revenues. This budget includes a return to the county of just $491,000 - a reduction of more than 95% in funding source that was used for road maintenance. Locally, property tax assessments are
declining (properties that were assessed this past year, had an average reduction of 28%).
Despite these reductions in revenues, this board has been unanimously opposed to raising any taxes to make up the difference. As a result, Frederick County's budget has been reduced by $50,000,000.00 over the last two years. After funding for Frederick County Public Schools, that is roughly a 20% reduction in the
funding for all other county services and facilities.
A partial list of the county services that are supported in the county budget includes the sheriff, fire and rescue, emergency management, the detention center, road and bridge maintenance, parks and recreation, transit, public health, animal control, planning, citizen services, libraries, and more - even snow
Budget cuts have been made across the board. From the services listed above to the county departments that support them (such as management services, finance and human resources), every part of county government has experienced significant reductions. Programs have been reduced or eliminated, and the county
workforce has been downsized, with 184 positions eliminated over the last two years.
County divisions that are supported by fees - solid waste management, water and sewer services - have experienced the same scrutiny and reductions in budgets and staff. In addition, a number of capital projects have been deferred, some indefinitely. Projects delayed include the already overdue renovations of some
older schools, the development of much-needed park facilities, maintenance projects on various county buildings, and more.
One important goal has been to make the necessary reductions in the most informed and thoughtful manner possible. In order to do that, three commissioners - Gardner, Gray and myself - spent many dozens of extra hours meeting with all of the Division Directors, and many department heads, reviewing their budgets
program by program, and in many instances, line by line.
While we would all prefer not to be experiencing the current economic downturn, every crisis is also an opportunity. And so, in addition to the reduction and elimination of some programs and staff positions, we've looked closely for ways to be more efficient. One of many examples is targeted reductions in fuel
consumption has resulted in saving more than $500,000.00 due to lower utilization of vehicles and equipment. Many of these efforts helped close the short term gaps we've had to close, but will make county government more efficient for years to come.
Which brings me to the next few years ahead.
While the news brings increasing signs of an economic recovery, and Frederick County will certainly bounce back sooner and stronger than many or most places, there is little doubt that the next two budget years, at least, will be just as difficult as the last two. More cuts from the state may be forthcoming. Or the
state could shift a substantial share of teacher pension cost to the county, even though the county does not decide or control the level of benefits. That alone could be tens of millions of dollars. Either way, we are not expecting to have any of the cuts from the state, such as our share of the State Highway User Revenue, to be restored any time
Even without additional state cuts, we know there will be significant reductions in property tax revenues as the state updates assessments on the two-thirds of the county over the next two years.
It is going to be more important than ever to examine every detail of the budget thoughtfully and thoroughly, balancing competing priorities in order to make hard decisions well and responsibly...without raising taxes. I know we can and hope we will continue to take a more surgical approach, using a scalpel to make
precise cuts rather than whacking away at the budget with a meat axe. It's hard work, but the budget is too important to do it any other way.
For those who want to review the county budget, detailed documents are available on the county's website (http:// www.frederickcountymd.gov). The public hearing will be televised, and will be available afterward via online video. and throughout the month of May, you can ask questions, or express your thoughts or
concerns by email or letter before the final budget is adopted.
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