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Unmet funding requests set stage for public hearing

While the Carroll County Board of Commissioners was able to meet about $10 million in requests from county agencies and allied organizations, about $15 million in requests went unaddressed.

The commissioners identified their priorities during a series of budget sessions in mid April that included funding the Carroll County Public Schools system, a drug enforcement and prevention program, nonprofits, the Department of Public Works, and several position requests.

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The board was able to fund these agencies and programs by utilizing surplus funds from fiscal year 2015, reallocating some of the county's local income tax revenue, removing a restriction funds normally reserved for the Community Media Center, and decreasing funding for the Department of Economic Development's Infrastructure and Grants Fund.

However, excluding the Not in Carroll drug program — a joint effort by the Carroll County Sheriff's Office and the State's Attorney's Office to combat the county's rising drug problem — and the nonprofits funded by the county, none of the agencies that were identified as priorities had their requests fully met.

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For example, while the commissioners were able to increase funding for the school system by $7.6 million over county staff's recommended budget, it still left the school system more than $4.7 million short of the Board of Education's request. In order to meet the shortfall from county funding, Superintendent Stephen Guthrie has proposed eliminating 56 teacher positions and cutting ninth-grade sports programs.

Other organizations' requests, such as the Community Media Center, were completely unaddressed.

After a series of community meetings around the county, the commissioners will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. tonight, May 7, at Carroll Community College.

Public Works' capital needs unfunded

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Scott Moser and Jeff Topper, both deputy directors of the Department of Public Works, had requested more than $5 million in capital project needs during an April 9 hearing with the commissioners.

The funding would've been used to buy a new salt barn, install a new sewer system and septic lines at the county's maintenance center, repair the cap on Hodge's Landfill near Eldersburg, improve and pave about 20 unpaved roads in Carroll, and buy salt now while the price is low.

The commissioners appropriated some of the county's financial year 2015 surplus and a portion of the unrestricted Community Media Center funding to pay for salt replenishment and road paving, but were unable to fund the other $4.6 million in requests.

Moser said the commissioners' decision to not fully fund the $2 million it would've taken to complete the paving projects is not as damaging as it sounds. The department still has $1.7 million in unused funds designated for that purpose from FY15, he said.

"We don't always spend the money [in the same fiscal year]," he said. "The process to identify roads [in need] is long, and sometimes issues come up so we can't do them or we can't get to all of it in time."

The sewer and septic system is estimated to cost about $1.5 million, Moser said, but as of now there is no planned addition and no pressing need.

"This isn't something we needed to do this year, but it is something to do, and we will eventually do it," he said.

The same can be said of the cap on Hodge's Landfill, Moser said. When a landfill reaches maximum capacity, layers of soil and synthetic barriers are placed over the waste to prevent contaminants reaching the ground because of rain water. The department will continue to request this funding, but while it will "deteriorate over time it's not bad now," he said.

The reason the department requested a new salt barn was to fill a void in the department's mapping of the county, Moser said. Carroll has no salt barn of its own near Hampstead and Manchester, with the closest being in Westminster. The department rents space at a private salt barn in the area, he said, but would prefer to have control of its own.

$2.5 million request from media center

The Community Media Center, an organization that provides technological education services and media coverage of government meetings and events, requested $1 million in FY16 to upgrade its equipment at its facility in Westminster in order to broadcast and film in high definition.

The center also requested an additional $750,000 in both FY17 and FY18 to complete the upgrade.

Not only did the commissioners choose not to fund this request, their decision to remove the restriction on the cable franchise fee — a portion of service charges collected by Comcast throughout Carroll that is normally appropriated for the center — eliminated the $2 million that had accumulated as a possible funding source for the upgrade. The decision also freed up about $400,000 annually that the county expected to bring in thanks to the franchise fee, and the commissioners chose to use that expected revenue to fund nonprofits in the future.

Marion Ware, executive director of the center, said the technological upgrade would ensure the community's media needs are met in the future.

"All communities deserve local media," Ware said. "We cannot thrive at all if we don't have some means of representing ourselves."

Ware said she would prefer to wait until the budget is finalized before she discussed the details of the proposed budget, such as the loss of funding from the cable franchise fee.

Agencies request 22 positions

During the commissioners' agency hearings in March and April, 22 total positions were requested for FY16. The majority of these requests were made by the Department of Public Works, and several were from the Department of Citizen Services and the Department of Land Use, Planning and Development. Many would replace a position that had been eliminated during the economic downturn that began in 2008, but several were new requests.

The total expected cost of these positions, including benefits, is about $2 million. The commissioners chose to set aside $200,000 in FY16 for position requests and hope this funding will be enough to hire three to four employees.

During a budget session April 21, Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, attempted to increase this funding to $350,000 because he believed the county agencies would not have requested these positions if they were not needed. No one seconded the amendment.

"If we add $350,000 we will have a happier, more motivated, more adaptable and better-staffed workforce," Frazier said.

Chief of Staff Roberta Windham said the commissioners have not decided which position requests will be funded. This will most likely be done after the budget is adopted, she said, and before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

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If you go

What: Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Public Hearing

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, May 7

Where: Scott Center at Carroll Community College, 1601 Washington Road, Westminster

To view the Carroll County Commissioners' proposed FY16 budget, visit http://ccgovernment.carr.org/ccg/budget/16-pbudget-sum/.

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