Several of the Carroll County commissioners explained their concerns about the fiscal year 2016 budget even as they released their proposed version Tuesday, beginning a period of public comment.
Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, said the use of one-time funds — the commissioners voted to allocate $8.2 million out of $8.9 million in surplus — to increase spending on recurring costs is fiscally irresponsible and has resulted in a budget that is structurally imbalanced.
Much of this one-time funding was used to bridge a $13.8 million gap between staff's recommended Carroll County Public School system budget and what the Board of Education requested.
Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said there are two possible means of eliminating this type of spending: make drastic funding cuts to the county's agencies and allied organizations or implement a tax increase.
During the first community budget hearing in Hampstead on Tuesday evening, which drew about 20 residents, Devon Rothschild, a member of the Board of Education, asked whether the use of one-time funds should be expected to continue in later years. Ted Zaleski, director of the Department of Management and Budget, said that "in some way," one-time surplus funding and short-term funding will continue for at least the next few years, but if county revenue ends up being higher than staff has projected in later years, the commissioners might not need to continue that trend.
"For a long-term approach, we don't want to try to make this work like this forever," he said. "This was a means to reach an end."
Zaleski said during the commissioner meeting Tuesday morning that throughout the years he has conducted these meetings, many times he has given the presentation to just a few people, and sometimes no one attends. Inevitably, each year residents complain they were not aware of the particulars of the budget and had no chance to give their input, he said.
These community meetings — four more are scheduled around Carroll through May 5 — are the public's opportunity to express their support or concerns relating to the budget before it is adopted, Zaleski said. Several commissioner work sessions have been scheduled after the final public hearing May 7 for the board to possibly amend the document before it is adopted, based on this feedback, he said.
While the board's proposed budget has now been released, an emergency budget session has been scheduled for Thursday to address a funding miscalculation for CCPS.
The commissioners had approved a budget that included $169.5 million for the school system, but because of an error in calculating a reallocation of school capital funding to the school system's operating budget, the existing budget will only fund the school system about $168.8 million, said Ted Zaleski, director of the Department of Management and Budget.
County staff had recommended the commissioners appropriate roughly $162 million for schools, but the Board of Education had requested $175.8 million. To bridge some of the gap, the commissioners voted to reallocate a portion of dedicated income tax normally allotted for the schools' capital budget to the school system's operating budget.
This portion was initially calculated to be about $2.8 million, but later was determined to be roughly $2.1 million. While the correct total was identified during a budget session last week, it was not incorporated into the school system's funding total when the commissioners voted, Zaleski said.
"[The commissioners] considered some different possibilities, and we just by mistake hung onto another scenario," he said. "We just got off on the wrong number and we didn't catch it."
The board has revised this week's agenda to include a discussion of education funding at a meeting on Thursday. The commissioners will most likely attempt to find alternative funding sources to make up for the $700,000 unexpected shortfall because it was their intent to fund CCPS $169.5 million, Zaleski said.
During the Hampstead meeting, Devon Rothschild also asked what other sources are available from which the commissioners could divert revenue to CCPS. Zaleski said that while there is no "money lying around," the commissioners can choose to reallocate funding from other budget lines, but these decisions have consequences, such as possibly reducing the levels of service to the county's residents.
"There's no freebies, no money under the mattress," he said. "[The commissioners] will try to get to that $169.5 million number, but there are things they will be giving up if they do this."
The Board of Education is set to meet at 5 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the school system's budget.
If you go
A series of local meetings will be held at branches of the Carroll County Public Library, as well as a final public hearing to gain feedback from residents and business owners in Carroll. All meetings will take place at 7 p.m.
Community budget presentations:
Wednesday, April 29, Taneytown branch, 10 Grand Drive, Taneytown
Thursday, April 30, Mount Airy branch, 705 Ridge Ave., Mount Airy
Monday, May 4, Eldersburg branch, 6400 Hemlock Drive, Eldersburg
Tuesday, May 5, Westminster branch, 50 E. Main St., Westminster
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Thursday, May 7, budget public hearing, Carroll Community College, 1601 Washington Road, Westminster