The Carroll County Board of Commissioners and members of the Carroll Legislative Delegation met Monday afternoon with Maryland Secretary of Budget and Management David Brinkely to discuss funding challenges facing the county, including education and public safety issues.
"I wasn't sure exactly if all of those challenges would come to the surface, and I think that we really made some great strides today in bringing a lot of what we are dealing with here in Carroll to the table," said Commissioner Steve Wantz, R-District 1.
Over the course of two hours, Brinkley and Carroll officials had a robust discussion over a list of Carroll's most crucial budget and funding issues, including how to keep funding the public school system and Carroll Community College in a time of declining enrollment; public safety issues, especially those surrounding drug treatment; and Carroll's volunteer fire companies and agriculture preservation, which Brinkley said was particularly important to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
Overall, Brinkley's message was that the budget, the capital budget in particular, was going to be tight for some time, as Hogan remains committed to holding the line on spending increases. He did, however, have a great deal of advice on how to work with the state to find additional funding for some projects where it might be available, such as some of the planned improvements at the Hampstead wastewater facility.
"When we can get some good information on how to acquire, who to speak to — the how, who and what — that's good stuff," Wantz said. "I thought it went very well. The dialogue was great."
It may have helped that Brinkley is no newcomer to Carroll County, having represented Carroll and Frederick counties in the state Senate from 2002 until 2014.
"I represented Carroll County in the legislature, so I've had a 12-year history of being intimately involved with some of the issues we talked about," he said, in an interview following the meeting. "There wasn't the learning curve that you might have in some areas, and even some of the players I have worked with before."
Carroll is the first jurisdiction Brinkley has visited in 2016, but he did have similar meetings with Garrett, Allegany, Washington, St. Mary's, Dorchester and Calvert counties in 2015.
"From the administration's perspective, it's phenomenal to have the secretaries be available so they can hear first hand what's going on," Brinkley said. "Any time that you are having a conversation between different levels of government, I would say 99 percent of the time that is healthy and good."
It's also been a bit of a surprise to some of the people he's visited.
"In every county I've gone to they this is the first time the budget secretary has ever been out there in an official capacity," Brinkley said.
Wantz said he has also been encouraged by the apparently open dialogue between state at local officials, noting that Brinkley's visit came within a week of Maryland Department of Aging Secretary Rona Kramer's visit to a World Elder Abuse Awareness Day event at TownMall
"That's perfect example of how they are reaching out," Wantz said. "She said to me, 'We know what's going on, we see what's happening in Carroll. You get a sense that there is a good, positive back and forth communication there."
When it comes to budgetary issues, Brinkley said it is his, and Hogan's, mission to be as honest and open as possible, saying during the meeting, "You may not get the good news that you want, but you will get the news." He told Carroll officials to reach out to him and his office at any time.
"I can't make promises, only the governor can do that," Brinkley said, "but at the same time, I can be the conduit."