The Carroll Board of County Commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to adopt a $700.7 million budget for fiscal 2023, which begins July 1. In three additional, but separate votes, the board approved the property tax rate and water and sewer rates with no increase, but did increase and solid waste fees.
“In an effort to offset the county’s increasing costs to recycle,” commissioners decided to increase the fee for commercial hauled recyclables from $30 to $55 per ton, starting July 1. Tip fees for tires will also increase from $150 per ton to $175 per ton for bulk/commercial hauled tires and from $2.50 to $3 apiece for off-rim tires. The fee for on-rim tires also increases by 50 cents, from $3.50 each to $4.
Commissioner Dennis Frazier, a District 3 Republican, and Commissioner Eric Bouchat, a District 4 Republican, dissented. Both said they were concerned about projected budget deficits in the next five years.
“This budget makes me uneasy because of the out years,” Frazier said. “We should look at possibly restoring taxes.”
Commissioner Stephen Wantz, a District 1 Republican, argued that now is not the time to raise taxes, with gas costing almost $5 per gallon and high inflation. The board collectively decided early in the budget process to not raise taxes this year.
The fiscal 2023 budget consists of 13 funds, including $501.3 million in the general or operating fund, and $113 million in the capital fund, which covers construction costs. The combined total of all budgets is about $700.7 million in 2023, representing a 2.8% increase from this year’s budget.
“Balancing this year’s budget was dependent on making difficult decisions on how to answer ‘yes’ for our county’s safety and security needs, and supporting the best education and quality of life for our community,” Commissioner President Ed Rothstein, a Republican representing District 5, said. “We do this as we try to progress into a post-COVID environment with increasing prices while determined to not put this stress on the backs of our Carroll County community.”
According to documents prepared by the Department of Management and Budget, one of the main goals of the 2023 budget is to address lagging compensation for Carroll County government employees. A little more than $7 million has been set aside for a plan addressing the county’s ability to retain and attract government staff.
Commissioners also made significant commitments to law enforcement in the 2022 and 2023 budgets.
Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees said his department presented a study to commissioners last year comparing law enforcement compensation in Carroll County with other agencies in the state.
“We believe a good target to attract high-quality police deputies would be in the 50th percentile of those organizations,” he said earlier this month. “This means if Howard County is the highest paid and Frederick County is the fifth highest, Carroll should be in the middle of Howard and Frederick.”
A plan was created at that time to bring law enforcement and correctional deputy salaries up to the desired level. Two lump sums were granted to the sheriff’s office by commissioners: $2 million in this year’s budget and $2.9 million in next year’s. The combination of these two years increased the total cost of salaries for the sheriff’s department’s existing employees by about 34%.
At the request of DeWees, commissioners also agreed to move up construction funding for the sheriff’s office headquarters project from fiscal years 2025 and 2026 to fiscal years 2023 and 2024. This means operating budget impacts will come sooner than planned.
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According to concept plans, the two-story building will include 40,000 square feet of space and cost about $30.4 million.
The board added $2.7 million to help boost salaries at Carroll County Public Schools, Carroll Community College and the Carroll County Public Library system.
In the 2023 budget, Carroll County Public Schools will receive a total of $10.4 million beyond 2022 levels from the county budget. Of that total $2 million is categorized as one-time funding that will not be given in subsequent budgets.
Commissioners also approved $1.1 million in one-time funds for technology upgrades in the Carroll County Public Library system and $2.4 million for construction of an artificial turf field at Carroll Community College.
As the county is in the process of developing its first combination fire and EMS department, commissioners committed $4 million in ongoing funds to fire administration, largely for the hiring of almost 250 EMS employees.
The Solid Waste Enterprise Fund also got a $4 million set aside for expansion of the Northern Landfill.
The Carroll County Government fiscal 2023 Adopted Budget Summaries and the entire budget book will be available to the public to view next week at carrollcountymd.gov/government/directory/management-budget/bureau-of-budget.