Carroll County commissioners unanimously adopt budget, including last-minute $1 million for schools

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously at its Tuesday morning meeting to pass a balanced budget for fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1.

It was the first time in at least two years the board had unanimously adopted a budget, according to Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1 — an achievement, he said, in a difficult year.


“This has been the most challenging budget I have seen in the time I have been here,” he said in an interview. “We really made some tough decisions.”

The $418.8 million operating budget includes a last-minute additional $1 million for Carroll County Public Schools, bringing total county school funding to $197.3 million for FY20.

The budget was adopted while also keeping county tax rates flat, with the commissioners voting unanimously on an ordinance keeping rates the same for FY20.

“We started with a deficit,” Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3 said at the meeting. “With the resources we had available I think we did a tremendous job with the budget.”

The commissioners started their budget process with a $2 million deficit due to lower-than-expected revenues, a shortfall that was made up for with spending cuts that Frazier had lobbied against, voting against passing the board’s first proposed budget on April 30 and instead arguing for tax increases.

“I would have been happier if we had looked at ways to increase revenues and not cut as much as we did,” Frazier told the Times in April. “I know it’s a Republican county, we’re very conservative, but if you want services, if you want good people, you want everything Carroll County has to offer, you gotta pay for it.”

But county tax rates will remain flat for FY20, at the existing $1.018 per $100 of real property and $2.515 per $100 on personal property, as Zaleski presented Tuesday.

“Holding the line” on taxes this year was important to Wantz, he said — not just to save citizens money, but because upcoming development might demand tax increases to meet them.

“There are quite a list of unknowns that will be coming up in the very near future,” he said. “Education funding and our future of fire and EMS here.”

The anticipated final report of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission, could change education funding formulas in ways that could place more costs on Carroll County, Wantz said, including on things like teachers’ pensions.

“Could there be tax increases on the horizon as a result of that?” Wantz asked in an interview. “Absolutely, and I did not want to put anything in play this year on the backs of our citizens, knowing that we could have to do something in the next several.”

Carroll County Public Schools had initially requested $5 million more than the $196.3 million the commissioners had included in their proposed budget in April, the board noting at the time that they hoped an additional $2.7 million in state funding, plus a potential $4.6 million due to changes in funding formulas already released by the Kirwan Commission, could fill the gap.

Commissioners had planned for $35 million in funding increases for CCPS over the next six years, including FY20. The final budget adopted Tuesday adds $1 million from that total to FY20, essentially moving some of those projected funds sooner than later.

“We moved some of them forward and smoothed the growth rate in FY 21-25 at 3.126%,” Zaleski wrote in an email. “Total six-year funding remains essentially the same.”


That funding is now $197.3 million for FY20, and $203.4 million in FY21 — as opposed to the $201.1 million originally planned — but is projected to be somewhat less of an increase in years further out. The school system had been projected to receive $211 million in FY22 and $217.3 million in FY23, and is now planned to receive $209.8 million in FY22 and $216.3 million in FY23 instead.

“They aren’t getting as much of an increase, but they will still realize an increase in funding,” Wantz said, “a consistent increase in their out years so they can base their decisions on that.”

In terms of fire and emergency medical services, the FY20 budget includes funding for a new position, the head of a proposed Carroll County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, who would help development and implement a combination service.

Carroll County’s 14 volunteer fire will remain independent and volunteer-based, Wantz said, but the county would begin “surgically infusing” paid staff to help boost the fire companies dealing with personnel shortages.

“They are going to be Carroll County employees,” Wantz said of the paid staff. “They will actually be paid by us. So there will have to be some sort of partnership that changes in which the finances roll right now, because we will be paying those people directly.”

Exactly what the partnership looks like, what it costs and how it will be funded are all part of what the new head of the Department of Fire and Rescue Services will be trying to figure out, according to Wantz — and it’s another reason the tax rates were kept flat, for now, in the FY20 budget.

“That’s the theme of this budget, holding the line in anticipation,” he said.