Carroll commissioners eye water, sewer rate increases, capping agriculture preservation in budget talks

In their continuing work to craft a proposed budget for fiscal year 2020, the Carroll County commissioners are considering increasing water and sewer rates, capping agriculture preservation funding in future years and making myriad cuts to the recommended budget that was presented in late March.

During the first work session to craft a proposed budget, the commissioners took a number of votes on changes to the budget proposal. The changes made on Tuesday include:

  • Increasing water rates by 8.2% annually for a three-year period and sewer rates by 4.2% for the same period.
  • Capping agriculture preservation funding in fiscal years 2023-25 to $3 million, rather than allowing it to return to higher amounts. The funds will be reduced leading to FY23.
  • Cutting the number of planned school resource officer positions in half, from 10 to five.
  • Eliminating annual funding to trail development projects.
  • Reducing transportation and state projects funding from $200,000 to $100,000 in fiscal years 2020-22.
  • Reducing funding for the Not in Carroll program by $50,000 in FY20.

Particularly contentious was the decision to limit agriculture preservation funding. Commissioners Richard Weaver and Stephen Wantz voted against the move. Funding was $1.81 million in FY18 and $3.056 million in FY19, with the proposal for FY20 at $1.83 million.

The vote will hold the cap at $3 million until the county achieves its goal of preserving 100,000 acres of open space in the county. Officials said during the meeting that the county was at about 72% of its goal.

Weaver said he was “adamantly” against the cap and he thought the board was making a “big mistake” in voting for it.

Rather than allowing for the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office to create 10 school resource office (SRO) positions, the commissioners cut the number to 5. However, that move comes after Sheriff Jim DeWees appeared before the board April 2 and said only five positions were necessary.

SROs are already deployed to high schools, DeWees said during the board meeting, and the plan to bring new SRO positions to middle and elementary schools does not require 10 new positions in the next fiscal year. DeWees said that should save the county about $800,000 in FY20.

Ted Zaleski, director of the county’s office of management and budget, reiterated during the meeting that the $800,000 is not “extra” money, but that it moves the county closer to a balanced budget.

“All it will do is put you in a ‘less bad’ position,” Zaleski said.

The board voted to cut $50,000 of ongoing funds from the Not in Carroll program, which is designed to combat the opioid epidemic. Previously, the program received $300,000.

The sewer and water rate increases could result in a yearly increase for homeowners of about $52 for both water and sewer, according to the county. The increases are to support ongoing operations and maintenance of county utility infrastructure.

“Delaying this decision could result in catastrophic failures down the road, so we need to do what is necessary to support the system today,” Commissioner Ed Rothstein said in a statement.

The budget process is ongoing. Work sessions are scheduled for April 18 and 23, with the commissioners’ proposed budget set to be released April 30.