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Commissioners to release proposed budget

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners have completed governmental operating and capital budgets for the year that starts July 1, and are preparing to release the documents Tuesday for public comment.

The commissioners were able to meet a portion of the $25 million in new funding requests from the county's agencies and allied organizations for Fiscal Year 2016, including increasing the funding level for Carroll County Public Schools, paying for a drug enforcement program, flat-funding, or even increasing, funding levels for some nonprofits, all while not raising tax rates.

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The board was able to accomplish this through the use of a surplus from the current fiscal year and by reallocating what staff had identified as flexible spending items.

Still, the total increased spending equaled about $10 million, leaving about $15 million in funding requests unmet.

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Changes could still be made to the budget following the community meetings and the public hearing in early May.

School funding increased

The commissioners were able to increase school system funding to about $169.5 million in FY16, more than $7 million above what staff had recommended, but still less than what the school system initially asked for.

Initially, the Board of Education requested $175.8 million for the coming year; however, with expected savings due to incentivizing teachers to retire, as well as a possible $1.2 million in additional state funding because of the General Assembly's decision to restore funding to the Geographic Cost of Education Index, several of the commissioners believed a county funding level at about $170 million would suffice.

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Superintendent Steve Guthrie said last week, however, he had learned that Gov. Larry Hogan will most likely choose not to allocate these additional Geographic Cost of Education Index funds to the individual school systems. This funding is optional, and Hogan is not compelled to spend or allocate it.

The commissioners allocated $4 million of one-time funding from a surplus and reallocated a portion of the county's income tax normally appropriated for the school's capital budget to the school system's operating budget. They also gave an additional $700,000 in one-time funding from money accumulated from the cable franchise fee over the past several years.

While a portion of the cable franchise fee collected is set aside for the Community Media Center, about $2 million had accumulated which had not been appropriated for the Community Media, and the commissioners voted to un-restrict the funds to gain access to them. The vote also unrestricted future cable franchise fee funds, which come to an estimated $400,000 annually through FY21.

Nonprofits get reprieve

After listening to nine of the 11 nonprofits funded by Carroll government ask for additional funding for FY16, the commissioners voted to restore funding levels from FY15 to the majority of these, and increases above those funding levels for two.

The previous board of commissioners had planned incremental decreases in funding to the nonprofits through 2020, including a 7.3 percent decrease across the board this upcoming fiscal year.

Instead, under the new plan, seven of the nonprofits' funding in fiscal year 2016 will remain flat from 2015, while Human Services Programs of Carroll County and Rape Crisis Intervention Services will receive increases.

Between 2017 and 2021, all of the county's nonprofits, with the exception of Access Carroll, will receive at least 1 percent increases annually. Access Carroll has a fixed funding budget of $20,000 from county government.

One of the main considerations that affected the board's decision to increase funding was Human Services Programs' state and grant funding shortfalls in recent years, which have put its continued operation of the county's shelters in jeopardy.

Zaleski said his staff estimated that, if Carroll government had to take over operation of the county's shelters, it would cost at least $1.4 million annually, but he expects it could be much more.

Human Services Programs has access to grants, a volunteer workforce and donations the county would "most likely not get," he said.

The commissioners decided to use additional contributions to the county's Other Post employment Benefit program, which is $150,000 in fiscal year 2016, as well as additional and accumulating payments of $150,000 through 2021, and the now-unrestricted cable franchise fee to cover these increases.

Taxes to remain flat

After much discussion concerning possibly increasing or decreasing taxes, the commissioners voted Thursday to keep the county's tax rates the same. The county's real property tax rate is set at $1.018 for every $100 of assessed value, the business personal property tax rate is $2.515 per $100 of assessed value, and the income tax rate is 3.03 percent.

Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, had proposed a tax reduction that would have lowered the business personal property tax rate by 1.5 cents in FY16, and an additional penny every year through FY21, and lessened the income tax rate by .01 percent in FY19, and an additional .01 percent in FY20 and FY21.

County staff projects Carroll would lose about $400,000 in recurring revenue for every .01 percent that the income tax is lowered, and $55,000 in recurring revenue for every penny the business personal property tax is lowered annually.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, countered this proposal with one of his own, suggesting a 2-cent increase to the real property tax rate.

Every additional penny added to the county's real property tax would result in an additional $1.8 million in recurring revenue annually.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, entered a motion to freeze the tax rates during the upcoming year, which passed 4-1, with Frazier opposing it.

Surplus funds drug program

A joint proposal by the Carroll County Sheriff's Office and the county's State's Attorney's Office to establish a drug enforcement program has been funded fully by using money from a surplus.

The program, known as Not in Carroll, will be a coordinated effort between the two agencies to combat the rising drug problem in Carroll through increased and specialized law enforcement action, and prevention and education efforts by the State's Attorney's Office.

The program is expected to cost roughly $1 million in FY16 due to start-up costs, such as hiring five new sheriff's deputies and three staff positions in the state's attorney's office. The total cost for the next three years is projected to be about $2.2 million.

Partially addressed requests

The Department of Public Works will have to make due with an additional $400,000 for the improvements to unpaved roads in the county, despite its request for more than $2 million for this purpose. The commissioners chose to appropriate the money from one-time funding remaining in the county's surplus.

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The board also partially approved a request by the Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association to fund the county's Length of Service Award Program, a benefit system that awards volunteer firefighters and emergency personnel based on length of service. They agreed to fund Length of Service Award Program at $50,000 in FY16-FY18, with increasing $50,000 payments each year through FY21.

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Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association had requested the commissioners appropriate $250,000 in one-time funding in FY16 on top of reinstituting a recurring $400,000 budget line item beginning in FY16 and going through FY21.

The county's agencies and allied organizations had requested a total of 22 positions in FY16, totaling about $2 million in additional salary. Many of them were to fill positions that had been eliminated in recent years due to the economic recession, Zaleski said, but a few were new. The commissioners chose to allocate $200,000 annually for the next six years to phase in the filling of these requested positions.

Unaddressed requests

After addressing what they deemed to be priorities, such as school funding and the drug enforcement program, the commissioners were unable to fulfill millions of dollars worth of requests from its agencies and allied organizations.

Public Works requested more than $3 million to purchase a new salt barn, install a new sewer system and septic lines at the county's maintenance center, and to repair the cap on Hodge's Landfill near Eldersburg.

Carroll County Public Library had requested $445,000 in one-time funding to replace and improve its computers, as well as a recurring budget line in out years to account for this need.

The Community Media Center also asked for $1 million in technological upgrade funding in FY16, and an additional $750,000 to complete the upgrade in FY17 and FY18.

Balancing the budget

After all of the funding increases, even with the use of one-time surplus funding, the county's budget was more than $500,000 in the red. The state requires that all local governments must pass a balanced budget.

In order to meet this requirement, Howard proposed using some of the Department of Economic Development's funding, which is $2.05 million from FY16-FY21, and additional funding of the county's law enforcement pension to offset the difference. These funds had been identified by staff as flexible spending.

For the past several years, the economic development department had only used between $300,000 and $800,000 annually, Zaleski said.

This decision has taken funding of the department down to about $1.5 million in FY16, but because of additional expenditures expected to hit in FY17 and FY18, future funding levels for the department are projected to be about $900,000 and $400,000 respectively.

Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, said he was concerned that "cannibalizing" economic development — which has been recognized by all the commissioners as a key element of growing Carroll's economy — was unwise and fiscally irresponsible.

Jack Lyburn, administrator of Strategic Accounts and Outreach for the department, said he believes these funding levels will be sufficient.

"I have no problem with [funding in] [FY]16 and [FY]17," Lyburn said. "[FY]18 might be a little low, but I'm fine with what you have here. I would want to retain the ability to come back [to the commissioners] with any projects to possibly be funded over and above what is here."

Capital budget additions

The construction of a new Career and Tech Center, improvements to the U.S Army reserve building in Westminster, and a new fleet washing system for the Department of Public Works have been incorporated into the county's six year Capital budget.

The new Career and Tech Center, expected to cost about $60 million, will be paid for with accumulated revenue and bonds, with assistance from the state.

The renovations and roof repair of the Army reserve building are expected to cost about $5.5 million, and will be paid for with out of a capital surplus and by issuing bonds.

A late request from the Department of Public Works for a new fleet washing system to meet environmental compliance requirements will cost roughly $700,000, and construction will probably begin July 1 at the start of FY16, said Scott Moser, deputy director of the department.

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Public comment begins Tuesday

The commissioners will be releasing the Fiscal Year 2016 Operating and Capital budgets for public review and comment this Tuesday. 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:

Tuesday, April 28, North Carroll branch, 2255 Hanover Pike, Hampstead

Wednesday, April 29, Taneytown branch, 10 Grand Drive, Taneytown

Thursday, April 30, Eldersburg branch, 6400 Hemlock Drive, Eldersburg

Monday, May 4, Mount Airy branch, 705 Ridge Ave., Mount Airy

Tuesday, May 5, Westminster branch, 50 E. Main St., Westminster

Thursday, May 7, budget public hearing, Carroll Community College, 1601 Washington Road, Westminster

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