Blaine for County Executive

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DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


February 28, 2008

Take a Closer Look….

Joan Marie Aquilino

Budget time is here. Moratorium is in the works. Last year was spent nickel and dime-ing the property owners, fighting with municipalities and the delegation. So many issues, so little time, what’s a commissioner to do? I’ve got the answer. Say no to out of control budget requests. Stop the “tax-n-spend” mentality.

 

Until the majority of the commissioners say “No,” we will continue to see rising costs coming at us in the form of new and higher fees or taxes. They say “No” to developers, businesses and property owners. You’re on a roll commissioners, keep saying “No.”

 

The Sheriff’s Department has set the bar for budgets and every department needs to be held to those standards, starting with, but not exclusively to, the Frederick County Board of Education. The Sheriff’s Department managed to not only improve its service but also cut almost a million dollars from its budget. This isn’t chump change. Sheriff “Chuck” Jenkins’ department thought outside the box. This is a lead I’ll gladly follow.

 

Should the school board ask for more every year? Until they use a line item budget and are held accountable, they will always expect more. If cuts are promised, they are made on the backs of our children. This process sets up the making of a perfect storm.

 

Use children, teachers and parents to fight the battle for more money; then sit back and watch it roll in. Works every time! Why should they change the formula now?

 

It’s much easier to pit parent against parent and what ‘their’ schools need. Fix the old schools, fill all seats throughout the county and then tell me what is left.

 

No, it’s more fun to build new pretty schools or redecorate a hearing room soon to be vacated. This isn’t a “Design-To-Sell” show. Steps are being taken by the commissioners to fund renovations for older schools, but they still cost us through increased fees.

 

The school system’s administration building, (location, construction, and timeline) would be laughable if it wasn’t coming directly out of our pockets. Not one single argument for its location in downtown Frederick works.

 

Added costs abound, including – but not limited to – the cost of employee parking and the decks that will have to be built to house all those cars.

 

Oh, and let’s not forget, before anything can happen there needs to be a massive site clean up. The cleanup costs rest with the school board. No, that’s incorrect; costs will lie at the feet of the taxpayers when the dust clears. The county purchased contaminated land from the City of Frederick. What happened to a feasibility study before purchasing? Oh, what a tangled web we weave. It just keeps getting better and better, or rather, more and more expensive.

 

When is the school board going to challenge administration’s recommendations? It should be trimming the budget, payroll and, yes, administration personnel. Out of one person you’ll get the work of three, out of two you’ll get the work of one and out of three you’ll get nothing and have to hire a fourth just to get the work of one. Just think of it as the “new” math. According to many it has to be better than the math they are teaching nowadays.

 

School board candidates expecting my vote, you’d better step up to the plate and not just ask for – but demand – accountability.

 

Another example is the Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB), namely health care coverage for retirees before they reach the age of 65, when Medicare kicks in.

 

A teacher, who retires at 55, has 10 years of coverage from this plan. The county paid $6 million last year, the school board’s total portion. The commissioners said we’ll jump start you but we expect…. Exactly what was expected, and how much money has the school board budgeted the coming year? A minimum of a 50/50 split would be a good start. This year the school board submitted budget offers…NOTHING, nada, zilch, doesn’t even mention retiree health benefits.

 

The school board expects the commissioners to either ignore the bill or pay it fully – again. Each year the phased-in amount isn’t paid, the payoff takes longer and costs more. Long and short – last year our commissioners decided to phase in the projected $35M cost for the school system’s retiree health benefit obligations over a 5-year period. The number last year was $6M, this year its $10M, promises the school board made to their employees, but are not willing to fund.

 

Tell the commissioners not to bail out the school board yet again. Every action has a consequence and, as long as we don’t hold the school board accountable for their actions, we will continue to foot their bills. Those responsible for our children’s education must learn this lesson.

 

Fire and Rescue! Now what is going on there? That budget request is getting totally out of control. Will we keep funding it until they, too, become the next glut on the budget. I’m still reeling from the yellow-super-duper-shock-absorbent laptops from last year and their price tags. Last year did seem to have a theme of laptops.

 

At issue with the fire department is the lack of a cap on the rate of increase on your property tax bill. You have a Homestead Tax Credit that caps your real estate tax increase at 5%, regardless of the increased assessment. There is no such cap on the fire tax portion of your bill. So, if the assessment went up $100,000, the fire tax increase will be based on the full increased amount.

 

That tax can be more than the State of Maryland’s take on your tax bill. Over the past three years the budget for this department has gone up about 75%. They are in a transition from all volunteer companies to either a combination of volunteer-paid, or fully paid. For the Fiscal Year 2009 budget, four more companies are asking to go from suburban tax rate ($.08) to urban tax rate ($.125).

 

We are talking about three departments (Sheriffs, Fire/Rescue & Board of Education) that are vital to life, safety and welfare of this county and its citizens. How can only one, the Sheriff’s Department, of those three do its job and do it well, making reductions in costs and actually improving its service? Yet, the other two departments (the Board of Education and Fire/Rescue) just soak us dry?

 

Are you willing to shell out more and more money, or are you going to finally say enough is enough? Will the commissioners make the tough cuts and say “No?” Are they brave enough? Brave commissioners, please stand up, you’ll get my support. Will they get yours?

 

Until next time…

 



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