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Commissioners discuss fiscal year 2014, future legislation in General Assembly

The Carroll Board of County Commissioners will determine whether any policy and budget procedures will need to be updated or changed based on the county's fiscal year 2014 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

During Tuesday's meeting, Comptroller Robert Burk reviewed the information with the board, which includes audited financial statements from an independent certified public accountant. State law requires all governmental jurisdictions to conduct a yearly CAFR, Burk said.

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"[The CAFR] is a capture of the financial activity of this year and the state of the county as of June 30 [when fiscal year 2014 ended]," he said.

The accountant gave the county a clean bill of health with no letter of comments, which would include findings identifying areas that could be improved upon, Burk said.

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This CAFR was very consistent with prior years, Burk said and had acceptable levels of both balance and debt. Debt was on a downward trend and the county's reserves are intact, with a $6.9 million surplus.

Burk attributed the surplus to both decreased spending and conservative budgeting. Responsible managing of the county's finances is based in large part on stability within county government and accurate forecasting of incoming revenue, which enabled the board to ensure spending came in under budget, he said.

"FY14 left the county in a strong position, which helped in the recent bond sale and credit rating process," he said.

The county finalized the sale of $73.5 million in bonds Nov. 13, and $58.5 million of that will be used to pay off existing debt accrued between 2004 and 2008. The county also received updated credit rating scores from three agencies in October, garnering two AAA ratings and one Aa1, one step below AAA.

Unlike the budget process, which looks to the future, the CAFR looks backward. As well as providing the county's current financial standings, the document also tracks 10-year trends to give the board a frame of reference and comparison points, Burk said. The board can use the trends to make economic and demographic comparisons to years prior.

"I don't have or expect any surprises," Burk said. "No news is good news, and it means we're complying. That's our goal."

The CAFR will be released to all state, federal, credit rating and bond agencies that would like a copy, he said, and copies can be obtained by the public by either visiting Carroll County's website or visiting the county's offices.

New Permits and Inspections website launched

A presentation was also made to the board Tuesday about the new Carroll County Bureau of Permits and Inspections website, which will improve make easier accessibility of information for residents, contractors and business owners.

Dean Camlin, a member of the Code Enforcement Steering Committee that was tasked with designing the website, said it is organized very differently than the previous website and breaks into areas that respond to each person's interests as opposed to presenting all information in a general format.

The committee identified the most common permit-required jobs and questions and categorized them by who would be asking these questions — residents, business owners or private contractors — to simplify the often complicated permit and inspection process, said Richard Caldwell, another member of the committee.

"Each aspect [of the permit process] or specific job is easily accessible from tabs at the top, which makes it far easier to locate the information needed," Camlin said.

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In March, an informal work session involving the committee resulted in the recommendation to improve the formatting of the existing website.

"One of the things we wanted to convey is the bureau is there to answer any questions you have, and we wanted to be upfront with people about what is required on our website," said Clayton Fischer, project analyst. The website is functional and can be reached at ccgovernment.carr.org/ccg/permits.

Potential future state legislation reviewed by commissioners

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, R-District 1, reviewed issues discussed at a recent Maryland Association of Counties meeting that are likely to come up during the upcoming General Assembly beginning in January.

One issue was funding for transportation, Frazier said. The association wants to ensure that taxpayers see the benefits of mass transportation. With the passing of an amendment to the state's constitution during the recent general election that will make it more difficult for future governors to reallocate funds appropriated for transportation projects, more of these funds will be used for their intended purpose.

It's going to be a tough budget to plan for fiscal year 2016, with many predicting shrinking state revenues to counties, and those counties could need to set new priorities on spending, she said.

Bail reform might also need to be addressed, Frazier said. Legal representation is offered in many counties around the clock to be present at bail proceedings, but Carroll County does not have the resources to offer this service. This has led to unequal representation throughout the state, she said.

She also said that there has been a push for legislation that would incorporate more transparency in how revenue is spent.

"[Governing bodies] would have an open checkbook," Frazier said. "Maybe the state can do something and the counties can piggyback on that."

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

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