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Carroll County commissioners approve budget plan, pass on tax increases despite concerns of future deficits

With one dissenting vote, Carroll County’s Board of Commissioners approved a proposed budget for fiscal year 2022 that significantly increases salaries for county employees, particularly law enforcement, but leaves the county with projected deficits beginning in 2024 that grow annually to nearly $16 million by 2027.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, cited those future deficits as his reason for voting no to the proposed budget during Tuesday afternoon’s work session.

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“We have a structural imbalance and it’s getting worse and worse,” Frazier said. “I can’t vote for the budget because of the out years. I’m not willing to put off an inevitable tax increase. Because if we wait it’s going to be worse.”

Carroll County Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, speaks at a commissioners meeting July 11, 2019 in this file photo. Frazier was the lone commissioner to vote against the proposed FY22 budget during a work session on April 20, 2021.
Carroll County Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, speaks at a commissioners meeting July 11, 2019 in this file photo. Frazier was the lone commissioner to vote against the proposed FY22 budget during a work session on April 20, 2021. (Carroll County Times)

He suggested the structural imbalance might affect the county’s AAA bond rating and said if there had been one or two minor tax increases in recent years “we wouldn’t be where we are right now.”

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“That really bothers me. Will we address it next year? I don’t think we will,” he said. “We’re going to leave this mess for the next board of commissioners. ... I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”

Commissioner President Ed Rothstein reiterated that he has “no appetite” for a tax increase right now, calling it “the wrong time to do it.”

Frazier responded that there “never seems to be a good time to raise taxes. It’s never good. There’s always some reason to say, ‘we can’t do it now.’ And that’s the truth.”

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said that Carroll County residents are seeing increases in terms of property assessments and the 911 fee that the county is raising, and that’s plenty for now.

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“Is there a good time to raise taxes? Probably not. Is there a worse time? Absolutely — in the middle of a damn pandemic,” he said.

This year’s budget is balanced, as is required by law, and some $8.7 million is expected to be left in a discretionary fund. Future year budget projections start off well enough, with a $3.8 million surplus expected next year. But expenses begin to outpace revenue in FY24, when a nearly $2 million deficit is projected. That rises to more than $6 million in FY25, nearly $12 million in FY26 and $15.8 million in FY27.

Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, blamed some of the budget problems on unfunded mandates from the state, such as the body-worn cameras that law enforcement will have to have starting in 2025.

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, said he couldn’t disagree with what anyone was saying, expressed hope that future revenue will exceed projections and said, while he is concerned about the coming budget deficits, “over the last seven years we’ve been able to hold the line on taxes, and that’s phenomenal.”

Wantz scoffed at those who simply say “trim the fat” from the budget, calling Carroll County “the leanest piece of beef you’re going to find anywhere.”

Among the commissioners’ top priorities going into the budget season was employee compensation. The budget calls for county employees to receive a 2% wage increase on top of ongoing cost-of-living raises of more than 3%.

The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office requested a major increase to get pay for deputies and correctional officers more in line with surrounding jurisdictions. While the commissioners didn’t approve the entire increase — and put off personnel increases related to body-worn cameras until 2025 — they put in extra $2.7 million into the budget, good for about a 14% budget bump.

“I think we addressed our priorities,” Rothstein said. “I’m very uncomfortable with the out years [but] we did a lot of hard work and due diligence with compensation. I’m very proud of where we got to.”

Citizens will now get a chance to respond to the proposed budget. It is expected to be released on April 27 on the county government website. A virtual public hearing is scheduled for May 11. Changes can be made based on feedback. FY22 budget adoption is planned for May 25.

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