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Editorial: County budget season is here, be an active participant in the process

For all the noise and decision-making that comes out of the Reagan Room at the Carroll County Government Building, the county’s budget process is the most important thing the Board of County Commissioners will undertake all year. It’s equally important that the public take an active role, ask questions and provide feedback about how the commissioners plan to use your tax dollars.

That process began last week with Department of Management and Budget Director Ted Zaleski’s overview of the Fiscal Year 2019 budget and the FY19-24 operating plan, and will continue through the end of May, when the budget is scheduled to be formally adopted.

The commissioners may have more pressure than usual during budget season, too, with it being an election year, and four of the five commissioners running contested races in the primary (Stephen Wantz and Dennis Frazier seeking re-election, while Doug Howard and Richard Rothschild seek seats on the Board of Education and Republican Central Committee, respectively).

Funding issues in the county are plenty. There is, of course, the $6 million-plus funding gap for Carroll County Public Schools that will need to be addressed. But this year, there is a renewed call for improving school security, including stationing armed resource officers in schools, as a result of the Feb. 14 shooting in Florida. Down the road, there is the likelihood Maryland will implement universal Pre-K, which will add to both operating and capital costs. And speaking of capital costs, depending on the recommendations of the Board of Education’s Redistricting and School Closure Committee in the fall, there is the looming specter of major renovations to East Middle School, as well as improvements to the Career and Technology Center the commissioners have already agreed to fund.

Outside of the public school system, both Carroll Community College and the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office are seeking additional money to give employees raises. The Length of Service Award Programs, more commonly called LOSAP, a benefit for first responders, has been costing more than the county has been putting in. And legislative initiatives in the General Assembly may also require additional funding at the county level in the future.

Fortunately for residents of the county, the budget process is a very open one, with opportunities to observe, comment and ask questions of both staff and elected officials. It begins Thursday, March 22, when the commissioners see Zaleski’s recommended FY19 budget and begin agency hearings. Next month, there will be five work sessions before the FY19 proposed budget is released to the public on April 26.

Then, there will be five community presentations at public libraries in each of the five commissioner districts. These are the opportunities to ask questions of county budget staff and learn more about what is proposed. They will take place 7-9 p.m. April 26 at the Westminster branch; May 1 at the Eldersburg branch; May 2 at the Mount Airy branch; May 3 at the Taneytown branch; and May 8 at the North Carroll branch.

A public hearing on the budget, the constant yield tax rate and water and sewer rates is then scheduled for 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, May 15, at the Scott Center of Carroll Community College in Westminster. This is when the public can provide feedback (as well as electronically) on the budget that the commissioners will use over the following weeks during work sessions before voting to adopt it May 29.

Whether you feel strongly about how much we are spending on education, public safety, infrastructure, or just want to have a better understanding of how your tax dollars are spent, we encourage you to circle some of the dates above, ask questions and provide feedback.

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