Carroll County’s financial roadmap is a bit clearer after the Board of Commissioners approved a proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 at its Tuesday work session.
The total of the proposed budget for FY20, which begins on July 1, is $417.5 million, according to details provided by Ted Zaleski, county budget director, and Deborah Effingham, chief of the budget bureau. The FY19 county budget, under which the county is still operating, was just more than $411 million, according to Effingham.
Here are some things to know about the proposed budget so far and the process toward adoption going forward.
This year’s budget is actually tighter than last year’s.
Although the FY20 budget is larger than the previous year’s budget due to an increase in revenue and costs, revenues did not increase as much as had been predicted the year prior. The upshot is the county began the budget process about $2.7 million in the hole.
There were many factors involved, according to Zaleski, beginning with lower growth in property tax revenue than expected, as a result of the most recent real estate reassessment in South Carroll, which he said constitutes about 42 percent of the county’s property tax assessment.
“We had planned for a 10% increase, and last year we were actually pretty comfortable with the idea of 10 percent. But what we actually got was an 8% increase,” he said. “That also changed our projections for the next time South Carroll comes up, so it reduced every year of our operating plan.”
Income tax revenue, which together with property taxes make up 90 percent of county revenues, according to Zaleski, also failed to grow as projected the year prior.
“Income tax is an interesting one — we know far less about it than we do about property tax. So it could be that we still see better performance from income tax than we’re planning on right now,” he said. “But we didn’t have information that allowed us to confidently tell the commissioners, ‘build a budget based on these expectations.’ ”
The budget was balanced primarily through cutting spending.
To close the gap between planned expenditures and new revenue projections, the county commissioners made a lot of cuts — in some cases allocating less new funds than had been planned, but still allocating more funds than in the previous year’s budget, and in other cases cutting funding below the FY19 level.
The three big changes, according to Zaleski, were in the facilities capital budget — funds for replacing roofs, heating and cooling systems, etc. — road paving and information technology, such as computers, servers and the like.
“Those three things are cuts relative to what we were planning, but will also be lower than what they had in this year’s budget,” Zaleski said.
Two county commissioners voted against accepting the proposed budget on Tuesday — Dennis Frazier, R-District 3 and Eric Bouchat, R-District 4 — with Frazier arguing that the county should have looked at raising revenue, including potentially raising property taxes, rather than cutting the budget so deeply.
“If you want services, if you want good people, you want everything Carroll County has to offer, you gotta pay for it,” Frazier told the Times on Tuesday.
County education spending alone won’t meet school system requests, but state funding could help.
The county will be committing more money to Carroll County Public Schools in the new fiscal year — just over $196 million, according to Zaleski. That’s compared with just over $192 million in FY19.
The proposed funding level is still shy of the additional $5 million that the school system had requested. But there could be other sources of funding coming.
The state budget has allocated $2.7 million for Carroll schools, and there is another $4.6 million that could come Carroll’s way in connection with the work of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission, according to Zaleski.
The commission has been studying and making suggestions on improving school funding formulas. Although that work is not final, Zaleski said, the Maryland legislature has begun to try and implement the body’s ideas.
“One thing to note there though, because the legislature added that after the governor’s budget, the governor is not required to release that money to actually be spent,” he said.
The budget isn’t done yet.
The budget proposal that the commissioners approved Tuesday is just that, a proposal, and there are more steps to take — and potential changes to be made — before the final budget is adopted.
The proposed budget will first be made available to the public at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 30, in Room 311 of the county office building, at 225 N. Center St. in Westminster, and online at www.carrollcountymd.gov.
County planning staff will hold five community meetings at branches of the Carroll County Public Library to solicit input: May 1 at the Eldersburg branch, May 2 at the Mount Airy branch, May 6 at the Westminster branch, May 7 at the Taneytown branch and May 8 at the North Carroll branch. All five meetings will be held at 7 p.m.
Also at 7 p.m. will be the May 13 public hearing on the budget, to be held in the Scott Center at Carroll Community College.
If needed, the commissioners will use additional work sessions on May 21 and 23 to make any further changes, and adoption of the official FY20 budget — the end of the process — is currently scheduled for May 28.
By law, Zaleski told the board at its Tuesday meeting, the county must adopt a budget by the last day of May.