Howard County has money to spend on two one-time initiatives after a late-summer boost to the county's income for fiscal year 2015.
A bill before the County Council this month, introduced by County Executive Allan Kittleman, allocates $290,000 to the nonprofit Community Action Council for a new food bank and $50,000 to the Village of Oakland Mills for a study looking at options for the community's aging village center.
It's an unexpected development after gloomy financial predictions earlier this year resulted in budget cuts to patch up a projected $15.8 million shortfall in fiscal 2015. Kittleman approved the reductions, which included a hiring freeze on non-essential vacant positions and the elimination or postponement of several one-time purchases, in February. By charter, the county is required to maintain a balanced budget.
But two final rounds of tax revenue for fiscal 2015, collected in late June and July, yielded about $4 million more than the budget office had predicted, according to county Budget Director Holly Sun.
"We closed FY15 in better shape than originally expected," Sun said, noting expenditures for the year had remained "pretty much on target.
"We're fortunate to have some extra money at the end of the year."
The gains come primarily from income tax revenue, according to Sun. Transfer tax revenue was also higher than expected.
Even with these revenue increases, the county would have still faced a deficit compared with the original budget for fiscal 2015, which totaled $1.29 billion, Sun said. But the gap would have been about $11.8 million, rather than $15.8 million.
Kittleman said the higher revenue meant "we were able to go back and look at some things that we weren't able to look at previously."
The funding for CAC, a Columbia-based nonprofit dedicated to helping the county's low-income residents, would match a state grant awarded to the organization last fiscal year to pay for its food bank, which has outgrown its current space off of Route 108, to be relocated.
In Oakland Mills, one of Columbia's oldest neighborhoods, some community members have expressed interest in revamping the community's center by developing it into a sports-themed destination. A grant of $50,000 from the county, combined with a pledge of $25,000 from Columbia Association, would pay for a feasibility study looking into the sports idea and other suggestions for revitalization.
"We want to make sure if [this] is something the community would like to have, that it's financially viable," Kittleman said.
The council must vote to amend the budget's general fund balance for both expenditures to move forward.
Separately, the county has already allotted $1.5 million from its PAYGO fund – which is comprised of budget surpluses from previous fiscal years – to road resurfacing, which Kittleman cut from the initial budget for fiscal year 2016, according to Sun.
Kittleman said he would consider spending more of the county's late fiscal 2015 revenues, though he plans to take an overall "conservative" approach to the budget. The $4 million figure for the higher tax revenue is still preliminary; the budget office will have the final numbers nailed down later this fall, according to Sun.
"This was done very methodically. This was not a scheme to cut things," Kittleman said. "We're trying to be as fiscally responsible as we can."
"We'd rather act on caution," Sun added.