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As Long as We Remember...

April 7, 2005

How to Spend a Windfall!

Alan Imhoff

Recently the Board of County Commissioners were given, what may be, a second "once in a lifetime gift" of excess tax revenue. The first one was the unexpected amount generated by the sale of Frederick Cablevision several years ago.

What a quandary to be in? Wouldn't you just love to have a hand in figuring out on what to spend that money? Well you can. It is as simple as calling, writing or e-mailing the five people who are responsible for making that decision. So if you have an idea or two, let them know.

Some of us would love to see the full amount be equated to a property tax rate cut from the current $1 down to say, 95 cents or even lower.

Others want it all to go to public education.

Then there are all those "pet" projects for each county department.

What's it going to be?

Well, maybe with some astute backroom bean counters, the county finance department can offer up a sensible, non-political plan that looks at some long-term implications as well.

Perhaps they could pay down some expensive debt or fund some of the smaller capital budget items that consistently get shoved back a year or two in the Capital Improvement Program.

Maybe they could recommend that a portion be used to fund a one-time replacement of those out of date textbooks for elementary schools.

Maybe, just maybe, they would recommend hiring an economist to study the overall fiscal health of the county for the next 10 years, a suggestion that was recommended in 1984 but never acted upon. Having this would remove all the guesswork should something like this happen again.

Just imagine the goodwill the commissioners would reap, if they set aside enough money to fund a special investment category so that the interest generated could be the baseline for funding annual requests from non-profit agencies. So they in turn could do multi-year operational forecasts for needed programs.

Perhaps, the commissioners would see the wisdom of using most of the funds to consummate the purchase and renovation of the Market Street bank building for expansion of Winchester Hall and maybe even allow for construction of a third floor crosswalk between the two buildings.

How many playground equipment upgrades could be done with this money?

Could it be used to offset the rising costs of providing water to tens of thousands of existing county residents by researching the creation of a countywide regional water authority?

Not to mention the emergency services, which could benefit immensely for finally "being prepared" for all types of natural and man-made disasters.

As you can tell the list is almost endless. That's why your ideas are important to the county commissioners.

Don't hold back; let them have what is important to you. No idea is too small.

But please, please do not ask them to fund anything in the operational budget!

Why? We all know that for the most part, once something is put into the annual operating budget of any governmental entity, it is next to impossible to remove it. It is as if it becomes a "sacred cow" never to be done away with.

So tell the commissioners not to add any permanent positions to staff with these funds, because if it is indeed a second, once in a life time event, it might not be there next year or the year after or ever again.

It is all too easy to succumb to quick fixes with any windfall this large. Frederick County has shown its conscientious effort to err on the side of conservative fiscal restraint. Let us hope these commissioners will continue that tradition.

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