With one week until the release of the fiscal year 2019 proposed budget, the Board of County Commissioners continues to hit roadblocks and struggles as it tries to determine priorities, find money to fund requests outside of the recommended budget and end up with a balanced budget for not just FY19, but for the years to come as well.
Commissioners met for a combined six hours Thursday to continue to work through the budget — which comes in this year at $407.6 million — often butting heads and becoming frustrated in a budget process that has been more challenging than that of the previous year.
A major part of the discussion was what to do about the opioid crisis, a discussion that has repeatedly ended in arguments between commissioners, mainly Doug Howard, R-District 5, and Richard Weaver, R-District 2.
Commissioner President Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said while he supports the idea of putting money aside, he thinks the county should use a committee or task force to pin down exactly how the money would be used before it's allocated.
"Waiting a year, not putting the money in … I think is a huge mistake," Howard said.
Commissioners voted against taking money from agriculture preservation, even after Howard suggested only taking $500,000 instead of his original suggestion of $2 million. Frazier seconded Howard's motion, but the other three voted it down.
The board did discuss trying to put between $300,000 and $500,000 each year toward fighting the opioid crisis, something Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, wanted to set a time limit on, while others wanted the funding to be ongoing.
Weaver said he liked the idea of trying to put a committee together, and told Howard he thought his plan had merit, but said the budget is "so tight this year."
Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said Carroll is doing "more than the surrounding jurisdictions."
"We're making huge strides here," he said, adding that he's also concerned about this year's tight budget. "I think it's tough to keep throwing additional things into this lean budget."
Howard continued to push back, and said he didn't care how Carroll compares to other jurisdictions, and that the county should be "doubling down" on its efforts.
"I think we're struggling with the idea of how to set priorities," he said, adding that if the county can't get ahold of security and the drug issue, "all of the other things we're working toward aren't going to mean anything. They're really not."
In addition to discussions about the drug problem, which lasted for about one-third of the morning work session, commissioners discussed trying to fund a number of items — like larger agency raises than planned — that aren't accounted for in the recommended budget.
The board has also been going back and forth on whether to budget for additional tax revenue that may be coming to the county. Additional money is expected to come in after changes in the federal tax code impacted Maryland's tax code. The General Assembly made some changes during the 2018 legislative session, but both the state and its jurisdictions are expecting to see an increase in tax revenue.
Commissioners worked to find a number they felt comfortable with to plan for to help balance the budget, but weren't able to agree on anything.
Weaver said at the end of the day, they just don't have the money to make things work.
"We're basing balancing our budget on a wing and a prayer," Wantz said.
In a break from the budget discussion, commissioners were briefed on long-term costs of possible options for what to do with the former school and, in turn, what to do about a possible Carroll County Public School Central Office move or expansion of the state's attorney's or sheriff's offices.
Up until recently, the plan was to move the northern branch of the sheriff's office and Carroll County Public Schools Central Office to the former high school in Hampstead, and to move the state's attorney's office and the main sheriff's office to the Winchester Building in Westminster, where CCPS Central Office currently resides. But updated budget figures put a halt to the plan, leaving commissioners unsure of how to proceed.
County Deputy Director of Public Works Scott Moser presented possibilities for North Carroll. These included minimal use — what's being used now; full use — which would mean moving the central office and sheriff's ffice; demolition of the building; shutting the building down but not knocking it down; creating a new building for the state's attorney's office and sheriff's office; and possibly creating a community center on the site, similar to what's being done on the site of the former Charles Carroll Elementary School.
Howard suggested a plan that would allow them to continue minimal use for a few years while they see if there's any interest for someone to purchase the school, while they work with the town over trying to change the zoning and while the school system's Redistricting and School Closure Committee completes its charge.
No decision was made on the concept before the end of Thursday's meeting. Commissioners are back Tuesday at what is scheduled to be the last work session before the budget is unveiled on Thursday, April 26.
Commissioners are scheduled to adopt the FY19 budget on May 29.
Work session: 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, Reagan Room
Release of FY19 proposed budget: 10 to 11 a.m. April 26, Room 311
Community presentations: 7 to 9 p.m. at Carroll County Public Library branches — April 26, Westminster branch; May 1, Eldersburg branch; May 2, Mount Airy branch; May 3, Taneytown branch; May 8, North Carroll branch
Public hearing on FY19 budget, constant yield and water and sewer: 7 to 9 p.m. May 15, Carroll Community College Scott Center
FY19 adopted work sessions: 10 a.m. to noon May 22 and 24, Room 311
FY19 budget adoption: 10 to 10:30 a.m. May 29, Room 311