Despite the economic hardship presented by the spread of the novel coronavirus, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman unveiled his proposed $948 million budget Monday — one that fully funds the school system’s request and is nearly $45 million greater than last year’s total.
The proposed budget would not increase taxes while providing additional funding education and public safety.
Glassman unveiled the highlights for the Fiscal Year 2021 budget through a video posted on the county’s YouTube page. On Tuesday, he’ll present the budget legislation to the Harford County Council for introduction.
There is approximately $11 million less for capital projects in the coming year’s budget than in FY2020. The capital budget is nearly $145 million of the proposed budget, falling by approximately 7% from last year’s roughly $156 million.
Glassman said that the capital budget was subject to cuts because it did not directly impact people as much as other services. Some projects like the Aberdeen Community Center and select others have been postponed, he said, to save money for potentially uncertain times ahead.
"We are going to be pretty picky about moving ahead with any of that until we see what the next quarter of revenue looks like,” he said.
The general fund, meanwhile, saw an increase of $37 million to $632.4 million for FY2021, which begins July 1.
If adopted as it stands, the budget would increase total funding to education — public schools as well as the community college and libraries by approximately $85 million.
The budget would increase county funding to Harford County Public Schools by approximately $20.5 million, consistent with the Harford County Superintendent Sean Bulson’s budget request, which was adopted by the school board in February. The school board’s budget would increase from $256 million to $278 million if the budget is adopted as it currently stands, meaning 50.6% of all county revenues would go toward schools.
Bulson said he was satisfied with the county executive’s proposal when reached via phone Monday. Previously, he said an increase could accommodate 115 new positions within the school system, reviving some old jobs and adding some new ones.
“He fully funded the operating request that the board put forward,” Bulson said. “That is good news for us.”
Glassman said that school system’s budget request was reasonable and necessary, noting the growth in number of students taught. He also wanted to give schools up-front funding to pay for electronic-learning solutions.
The budget would “fully fund the Harford Community College’s budget request and a 3% increase to support the Harford County Public Library,” according to the document.
The proposed budget also shows an approximately $2 million cut to administration costs, according to the document, and a $608,000 reduction in the public works’ allocations.
Glassman said that, while many have felt the coronavirus’ economic impact and more issues are on the horizon, conservative spending has preserved the county’s available fund balance at around $20 million. That gives the county cushion for hard fiscal times like those Glassman forecasted as a result of the pandemic.
Glassman said the county was able to keep its fund balance near the $20 million mark by benefiting from the federal tax plan signed into law in 2017, spending conservatively, and drawing money from multiple different sources to keep the fund healthy. But he has instructed county agencies to look for savings where they can find them and keep an eye on their budgets in case he needs to take money back.
The county executive can readjust the budget in January if necessary, Glassman explained, and if the coronavirus-related closure of state businesses last through the summer, hard decisions will have to be made.
"If this thing drags into the summer, I can see coming back and having to make some midterm cuts,” he said. “But my hope is it will not drag into the summer.”
Glassman said he received pushback in previous years on his decision to reserve money in the fund balance. But that decision, he said, has been borne out by the beginning of the pandemic and the county’s strong fiscal position.
“I have resisted that for five years,” he said. “Even if it means saying ‘no’ to a lot of worthy projects."
The Harford County Sheriff’s Office, under the proposed budget, would receive approximately $5.5 million more than last year — up from $84 million to $90 million. Emergency services would also get $3.5 million more than last year.
Glassman said all general county employees would be eligible for a merit-based $2,000 bonus and 2% wage increase to adjust for costs of living and help those on the lower end of the county’s pay scale. Additionally, the sheriff’s office’s wage enhancement request was fully funded, Glassman said.
The budget also includes “historic-level funding for our first responders” Glassman said in his release — nearly $7.2 million for volunteer fire companies, $5.3 million for the county’s volunteer fire and EMS foundation and another $3.5 million for the county’s EMS service, including the addition of a third crew in FY2021. A cost of living increase to volunteers’ length of service awards program is also including in budget funding.
Other changes in the budget
· PLANNING AND ZONING: $3,990,324 to $4,129,012 – a $138,688 increase
· COMMUNITY SERVICES: $5,317,771 to $6,054,180 – a $736,409 increase
· HEALTH: $3,815,987 to $4,018,168 – a $202,181 increase
· PUBLIC WORKS (includes Solid Waste): $21,438,441 to $20,830,375 – a $608,066 decrease
· HARFORD COMMUNITY COLLEGE: $17,147,844 to $17,547,931 – a $400,087 increase
· COUNTY COUNCIL: $3,371,089 to $3,528,526 – a $157,437 increase
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· PARKS AND RECREATION: $10,684,274 to $11,288,619 – a $604,345 increase
· COMMUNITY & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: $6,419,651 to $5,856,998 – a $562,653 decrease
· DEBT SERVICE: $56,312,950 to $60,469,990 – a $4,157,040 increase
· BENEFITS: $9,671,601 to $10,449,572 – a $777,971 increase
· MISCELLANEOUS: $19,299,246 to $21,294,720 – a $1,995,474 increase
· JUDICIAL: $3,646,472 to $3,915,726 – a $269,254 increase
· STATE’S ATTORNEY: $6,339,047 to $6,659,125 – a $320,078 increase