Setting The Record Straight
Albert Einstein once said: “If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts.” We feel this aptly applies to the recent letter criticizing the financial actions of the current Board of County Commissioners.
The previous letter noted that the county budget has dramatically increased since this board took office after flat funding during the Jan Gardner term. That is not true. When these county commissioners ran for office together, they pledged to get the county’s fiscal house in order.
Some have not understood that the budget has increased due to the inclusion of the fire and rescue tax, totaling $42.2 million in FY 2014 in the General Fund.
Furthermore, the separate fire tax expenditures in the last budget adopted by the Gardner Board for FY 2011 was $44.7 million, while the separate fire tax expenditures rolled into the General Fund by this board in FY 2014 was $42.2 million. This represents a 5% decrease in spending as compared to the Gardner Board.
One must look at what has increased in the operating budget, some of which increased only because this board made the fiscally prudent and responsible action by fixing the long-term problem with our fire tax districts and rolling them into the General Fund.
Had these commissioners operated the way the Gardner Board did, the fire tax expenditures would have continued to hemorrhage tax dollars for years and years. When the four of us ran for office together, we pledged to get the county’s fiscal house in order.
Since taking office this current Board of County Commissioners has reduced the overall size of the county government workforce while at the same time the county has grown in population. In 2009 there were 2,624 budgeted merit positions on the county payroll. In FY 2014, there are 2,190. This is a smaller, leaner workforce than in 2004. This was done without any loss in services to the taxpayers.
It was also referenced that this board was sacrificing the quality of life to developers. Again, that is not true and is a myth. In 2007, 788 new housing permits were issued by the county; in 2010, the last full year of the Gardner Board, there were 577 permits and for 2012 there were 500 new dwelling unit permits issued. That is a 13% decline in permits from the Gardner Board! Clearly, the developers are not running the show at Winchester Hall or running wild in Frederick County!
The letter writer also stated that the Gardner Board brought the county its first AAA bond rating. While true he fails to mention that – because of the Gardner Board’s fiscal actions, the county received a subsequent downgrade. Our board received an upgraded bond rating from Fitch after taking immediate action.
The letter writer also said that the Gardner Board budget started at $436 million. This is also incorrect. That was the FY 2007 adopted budget that was adopted by the previous Board of County Commissioners. The first Gardner Board adopted budget was $472 million. That was an immediate $36 million increase in government spending, or an 8% increase from the previous year. Compare this to only a 4.9% spending increase over the previous three years by this board which equates to a 1.63% annual incremental increase! The Gardner Board spent the fund balance and pretty much every other dollar they could locate in their term in office.
They also raided the recordation and bond enhancement funds. This board has not raided the bond enhancement fund! This board has replenished the fund as well as other unfunded liabilities such as pension and OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits).
The bottom line – and the facts – is that the Gardner Board grew county government to the largest it had ever been with budgeted positions. We were left a budget mess to clean up, a fire tax in crisis, and we were chosen to clean up and fix the mess made by the Gardner Board. We note that Ms. Gardner is now considering coming back to the county, after this board has made the tough decisions that corrected and strengthened the county’s fiscal house.
This board has fulfilled its pledge!
In closing here is a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”
This board trusts that it has indeed met that obligation with the real facts.