From the Desk of
County Executive Jan Gardner
(5/2014) As the first County Executive under our new form of Charter Government, I was excited to present the Fiscal Year 16 operating and capital budgets, the first historic budget developed following the transition from the Commissioner form of government to Charter.
The proposed budget reflects a sensible, responsible, and balanced approach to ensuring exceptional educational opportunities, a safe community, and a high quality of life. The budget is balanced sharing limited funds among our community priorities.
The good news is that revenues are growing reflecting a slowly but steady economic recovery. The bad news is covering a $10.4 million structural deficit inherited from the prior administration’s fiscally irresponsible decision to raid reserves and use one-time money to support ongoing expenses. Reserve funds were used to
give county employees a raise that cost approximate $10 million. The raise was essentially put on a credit card and I am now paying the bill. I am really paying this year for a raise granted last year. My proposed budget will entirely fix this structural deficit.
The operating budget is lean and mean with no increases in existing tax rates and with an overall modest increase of only 1.93%. The budget adheres to sound fiscal management policies and practices and will ensure the retention of our AAA bond rating.
For the first time in six years, the proposed budget funds our public schools above the bare minimum level required by state law. This increase in commitment to public education fulfills a campaign promise but most important will make progress to maintain our excellent public schools by ensuring the best teachers and staff
in the classroom and needed books and materials of instruction.
A fundamental responsibility of county government is to ensure the safety of its citizens. The budget adds public safety staff in both the Sheriff’s Office and in the Division of Fire and Rescue to help respond to growing calls for service and other needs. Funding is also provided to restore two positions at our Public
Safety Training Center to ensure accreditation of the county training program for EMS providers. The capital budget provides for a new burn building to accommodate local training and recertification of our volunteer and career staff. The funding for this project comes from eliminating a project to move logistics to the Public Safety Training
Center, a project that was simply not needed.
The budget also takes care of some of our most pressing community needs including our growing senior population, affordable housing, and protecting public health. Supporting Meals on Wheels was a campaign commitment to make sure that no senior goes without the nutrition they need. We have expanded Meals on Wheels routes in
the Middletown area, which was not previously served, and will soon be adding a route in the Lewistown area. A position is being added to the Adult Evaluation and Review Services program to provide for an additional nurse/caseworker to evaluate and connect seniors to services to help them age in place – at home, where they want to be.
As promised during the campaign, I have reviewed the impact of privatization and am eliminating contracts where the work can be done in-house more effectively and at a lower cost to taxpayers. Privatization will end for replacement of large culverts and headwalls, for routine maintenance and painting of bridges, for the
disposal of animal carcasses on our roadways, for week control along County roads, and for tree trimming. This work can be done more efficiently and at a much lower cost in-house. For example, last year the county spent $500,000 for a large culvert project when this work could have been done in-house for $140,000. That is a $360,000 cost to
taxpayers that was unnecessary. I take my job to protect taxpayers seriously. I am living up to this pledge by ending privatization that costs taxpayers more.
I am also ending the changes made to manage our fleet of county vehicles including police cars, transit buses, dump trucks and sedans. Irresponsible decisions were made by the previous BOCC that have simply decimated the fleet reserve fund. These decisions include extending a longer life for many vehicles including an
assumption that police cars and dump trucks could last 15 years! Extending the life of vehicles has made maintenance and repair cost skyrocket. These unexpected maintenance costs far exceed and negate any projected savings from extending the life of vehicles.
In addition, $6.5 million was taken from fleet replacement reserves to support ongoing expenses in the general fund that the county simply could not afford. This has resulted in projections that fleet replacement reserves will be wiped out in less than two years. In response, I have approved reverting to realistic
replacement schedules for county vehicles. I will restore the funding to the fleet replacement fund over the next several years.
The budget also responds to several new mandates. The State legislature has decided to change voting systems from the touch screens back to paper ballots. (Yes, the old fashion system was better and more accountable!) The county is mandated to pay half of the cost of this new voting system or approximately $800,000.
The federal clean water act has mandated new storm water requirements that have increased spending on stream restoration, storm water pond retrofits, and other projects to $27 million over the next 6 years. This storm water mandate will increase costs dramatically over the next 5 years and will potentially delay school,
road, and other traditional county capital projects.
The county budgets are lean, balanced, and fiscally responsible. It makes clear and compelling progress to meet the needs of a growing community and presents a balanced approach to ensuring excellent schools, a safe community and a high quality of life through the provision of services to our citizens provided by our
libraries, parks, health department, public works and other county agencies. This budget is about serving people.
Working together, Frederick County will continue to be a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family.
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