Itís That Time Again
Budget season is here and the County Council received Executive Jan Gardner's proposed Fiscal Year 2016 budget 13 days ago. She proposes $10 million in new spending which includes $4.2 million "above" maintenance of effort for county public schools.
The executive's budget adds 20 new full-time positions, which adds recurring costs to an already strained fiscal picture.
The two biggest revenue producers, which are the property tax and the piggy-back income tax, are up $19 million collectively. This is based on existing tax rates of $1.06 (property) and $2.96 (income). Property assessments are up 3.30%, which generates $8.8 million in additional revenues just in the property tax category alone. In my opinion, we should reduce the tax rate to reflect the constant yield to $1.04 per $100 of assessed value. Leaving it at $1.06 is nothing more than a hidden tax increase.
If the county council does not hold the constant yield tax rate – and actually goes with the current rate of $1.06 per one hundred dollars of assessed value – you will see an $8.8 million tax increase. I don't hear the executive in the press talking about this, I wonder why?
There are many issues I have with this budget, beginning with a one-time transfer of $2 million to cover the assumption of sale of county buildings. Why would we need to transfer $2 million for this? The buildings are still for sale and until they're sold, I don't think it costs $2 million to let them sit empty.
Another caveat to this expenditure for example is 520 N. Market Street, a county building that as a county building, generates $0 tax revenue. Once sold to the private sector, it would generate $36,000 annually in tax revenue just in property tax. It makes no sense for the county to own any buildings, but it appears the county executive is gearing up to hire more county employees and fill up these buildings that are currently for sale. Fiscally responsible or fiscally ridiculous? You make the call.
In the public works department, the infamous sewer camera truck is back in the budget. This is the same truck I nixed three years ago because the previous truck the county had was 16 years old and had 20,000 miles on it. Also, it was not even operational for over two years before that. The county executive has $400,000 budgeted for – yes – a new one again. The executive wants to add nine full-time benefitted positions in highway operations so they can remove deer carcasses, trim trees, do weed control, and build headwalls. She wants to add two HVAC positions to maintain county building systems.
This is a complete waste of taxpayer funds. She claims it a net $0 effect since we were paying contractors to do this work previously.
So again, let me make this very simple: if you had an issue with your HVAC or tree trimming or weed control at home, would you (a) hire a person, buy them a truck, pay the benefits (healthcare, vacation, sick days holidays, floating days, picnics, etc.) or would you (b) call a contractor and have the issue taken care of through the private sector? I think you know the answer; and it surely doesn't have a net effect of $0. Her fuzzy math says it does, and if you believe that, please contact me because I have some swamp land in Florida for sale.
The previous Board of County Commissioners outsourced fleet services for maintenance, etc. It worked great and saved the taxpayer a substantial amount of money. The executive wants to hire a full-time maintenance technician. Anyone ever see Jiffy Lube, or Quick Lube, the Lube Center, or your local garage that does maintenance on cars and trucks? Again, would you hire your own mechanic, or take your car to Jiffy Lube? You make the call.
Let us not forget about the Lime Kiln rehabilitation at Fountain Rock Nature Park near Walkersville: $600,000 to do some masonry repairs to an old lime kiln that if you took a visitor there today, they would look at it and say, "That’s nice." If we spend $600,000 on masonry repairs, that same visitor will look at it and say, "That’s nice."
This is not needed at this point in time. There is $173,000 allocated for an addition to the county attorney's office, totally unnecessary as well as the $50,000 salary for the Board of Education liaison which is nothing more than a political appointed payback. That position is a duplication of effort and accomplishes nothing.
So, there you have it in a nutshell. It's going to be interesting to say the least. We have a budget that meets maintenance of effort (the state mandated minimum increase) plus an added $4.2 million above Maintenance of Effort for Frederick County Public Schools funded as well. We have two teachers on the County Council who will vote on millions of dollars that will help their coworkers as well as themselves.
I'm not saying they're bad people, but they are in a bad position. If they vote for these added millions to the Board of Education, the taxpayers will scream foul, claim they're padding their own pockets. If they don't, it will be very hard for them to walk among their peers at their schools to say the least. I don't envy them in that position. It's a no-win for our two elected County Council teachers.