Commissioners prepare for agency budget meetings

County government staff is keeping a close eye on the state's budget, which recently passed the House of Delegates, because what the state ends up funding could have substantial consequences for Carroll's budget process.

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners heard Tuesday the final pieces of staff's recommended Fiscal Year 2016 budget, and will begin hearing from county agencies beginning Thursday.


Ted Zaleski, director of the Department of Management and Budget, on Tuesday presented the recommended budget with discussions concerning the staff's Community Investment Plan for FY16-21, and county's long-term liabilities and its enterprise funds. The five-year Community Investment Plan, or capital fund, hinges in part on funding from the state.

Zaleski said, because the commissioners won't be adopting a county budget until May 26, this leaves county staff with more than a month to review the state budget after the General Assembly session ends in mid-April.


Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, asked if there is precedent for amending the budget after it's been adopted. One of his concerns, he said, is that something in the state budget that could impact Carroll's budget may not take effect until after the county budget process is completed.

Zaleski said the commissioners could make late amendments, but it would require them to open the entire budget up for discussion and scrutiny.

"There's no way to pull out a single piece," he said. "If you want to change one thing by $10, it's the same process if you want to change 100 things by $100 million."

Community Investment Plan

Zaleski said the county staff is recommending the commissioners dedicate the majority of capital funding to maintaining its existing infrastructure, such as upkeep on roads and bridges, the replacement of roofs and HVAC systems on county buildings, and technological upgrades.

Staff has called for about a $1 million increase in the county's capital fund compared to last year. The majority of funding comes from county revenue sources, but about $6 million is expected to come from the state, Zaleski said.

The $6 million figure is uncertain at best, he said. In recent years, the state's Open Space program — which provides financial or technical assistance to a local governments for the planning, acquisition and development of recreational facilities — has decreased its funding.

Zaleski said he expects the county will be unable to acquire the level of Open Space funding it has become accustomed to, which may force the county to change parks and recreation plans significantly.

"We will have to either push back our projects or eliminate some altogether," Zaleski said.

Another area of uncertainty relates to state funding for Carroll's agricultural land preservation program. The state had allocated $1 million annually to assist the county is its purchase of agricultural preservation easements, but the figure has fluctuated in recent years, he said.

"Since this [amount] isn't certain, we aren't counting it into the recommended plan," he said.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, asked if the county was fully funding the program without the assistance of the state. Zaleski said even when state funding was consistent, the agricultural preservation program was still "overwhelmingly" funded by the county.


"While we would hate to lose state funding, it's not what keeps the program going," Zaleski said.

Long-Term Liabilities

Carroll has several long-term obligations it must account for in FY16, including its bonded debt, installment purchase agreements for easement acquisitions, pensions, medical benefits for retired local government employees, and its award program for volunteer employees such as firefighters.

The prior board of commissioners was committed to lowering the county's bonded debt, decreasing it by more than $36 million, or 11 percent from FY11-FY15.

Staff's projected outstanding bonded debt calls for a continuation of this practice, decreasing the debt by an additional $30 million over the next six years.

Zaleski cautioned the commissioners, however, and said any decision concerning the allocation of county revenue, regardless of how small, would have the potential of affecting staff's projection.

While required funding for bonded debt and existing installment purchase agreements are a known quantity, pensions and other similar programs are not exact, Zaleski said.

The county operates two pension systems, one for law enforcement and another for the remainder of county government employees. The county also manages a benefits program called OBEP, that offers medical assistance to retired local government employees, and another called LOSAP, that offers monetary awards to volunteer employees that vary depending on the length of service.

Funding for these programs is entirely up to the discretion of the commissioners, Zaleski said.

"The county is not committed to a specific dollar amount over a specific number of years," he said.

The last board also made strides in reducing the unfunded liability of these future payment obligations, decreasing it from $113 million to $101 million just last year, Zaleski said.

"We have made tremendous progress, and reached a point that, on an annual basis, we are putting in the right amount to reach our long-term funding goals," he said. "There is no circumstance where we will need to pay that $100 million tomorrow. That will be paid out over decades."

Solid Waste Fund

While the majority of the county's enterprise funds — funds that are self-sustaining based on fees collected for services — are solvent, the solid waste fund has required significant assistance from Carroll's general fund for years, Zaleski said.

The county has been contributing about $2.5 million in general fund revenue in each of the last several years to the solid waste fund, he said.

"With choices [the commissioners have] made in the past, this fund cannot sustain itself," Zaleski said. "Unless we do something that changes the revenue side, it cannot generate revenue to offset the costs. I'm not saying this is not OK, I just want the commissioners to recognize this fact."

Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or wiley.hayes@carrollcountytimes.com.

Budget meeting schedule

All meetings will be held in the Carroll County Office Building, 225 N. Center St., Westminster, unless otherwise noted.

Meeting times and places are subject to change, so please check the county's website at ccgovernment.carr.org/ccg/ or call 410-386-2400 to confirm.

Agency meetings with commissioners

March 26, March 31, April 2, April 7 and April 9


Budget community meetings


North Carroll Library, 7 p.m. April 28

Taneytown Library, 7 p.m. April 29

Eldersburg Library, 7 p.m. April 30

Mt. Airy Library, 7 p.m. May 4

Westminster Library, 7 p.m. May 5

Budget public hearing

Scott Center Auditorium, Carroll Community College, 7 p.m. May 7

Tentative additional budget work sessions

May 12, May 14, May 19, May 21

Budget scheduled for adoption

May 26

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