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Carroll County budget presentation depicts mixed bag: No short-term shortfall but trouble ahead

The Carroll County commissioners hear a presentation on the recommended fiscal year 2020 budget.
The Carroll County commissioners hear a presentation on the recommended fiscal year 2020 budget. (Cody Boteler / Carroll County Times)

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday heard a presentation on the recommended fiscal year 2020 budget during an open session that included several potential areas of savings, but painted a reality where county revenues are falling.

On the one hand, there are several departments in the county government that have lower costs — compared to FY19 — baked into the recommended budget. The county will not face a shortfall at the end of FY19 or into FY20, said Ted Zaleski, director of the county’s management and budget office.

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On the other hand, revenues from taxes including property tax, income tax and recordation are growing more slowly than expected, making the adoption of a sustainable budget through FY25 more difficult, Zaleski said. Those declining revenues mean the county could be taking in about $5.5 million less than expected by FY24.

“Our plan can’t be balanced without policy decisions,” Zaleski said during the meeting.

He said the county has to plan for the future, not just the budget coming in the immediate year. Because of slow revenue growth, the county should not, for example, take on new projects or services without considering future costs of maintenance and upkeep, he said.

In total, the recommended budget for FY20 that Zaleski presented at the commissioners meeting runs about $418 million, though Zaleski said he expects that number to change as the budget process progresses. The FY19 budget was set at about $411.3 million.

“I’ve never seen a challenge like this. It's going to be interesting,” said Board of Commissioners President Stephen Wantz, R-District 1. “We’ll see where we go.”

Some savings built in for county funds, Zaleski said, include the relatively low and flat costs of paint, road salt and fuel.

Another saving area is from employee turnover; when new employees replace those who leave their county jobs, the new employees often do not earn as high a salary as the ones who left.

There are also, however, expenses that have to be considered. Pension obligations, for example, are increasing by 2.9 percent to about $4.2 million from FY19 to FY20, and other post-employment benefits are increasing by 9.5 percent to about $12.5 million.

Some other items included in the recommended FY20 budget:

  • $15.4 million for road construction and maintenance
  • $600,000 for bridge maintenance and construction
  • $2.3 million for recreation, including land acquisition, sports complex lighting, trail development and park restoration
  • $1.3 million for county technology

There are other factors the county will have to consider, Zaleski said, that are completely out of the commissioners’ hands. That includes spending that may be required from the Kirwan commission — a group looking at how to improve public schools in Maryland — and legislation, which has been sent to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk, to increase the minimum wage in Maryland.

Zaleski said he has “no way to quantify” what those changes could mean for the county’s bottom-line budget, but that changes would undoubtedly happen.

Agency hearings, when county agencies make their cases to the Board of Commissioners for their levels of funding, are scheduled for March 28, April 2, and April 4.

There are council work sessions proposed for April 9, 11, 18 and 23, before the commissioners release a proposed budget April 30.

There will be community budget presentations across the county in early May, with a public hearing scheduled for May 13 before a vote on May 28.

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