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May 2, 2016

The Budget, Constituent Service and Schools

Guest Columnist

Kirby Delauter


It's budget time and, as a County Council, we get a full 25 working days to review and approve a $560 + or - million budget. That is 25 working days if you don't have any other full time job and could spend 10-12 hours daily on the review.


The county executive waited until the last day per the charter to give the council members her budget for review. As a Council, we have no accountant on staff, no budget officer and we're not even subcontracting out to get advice from anyone with a CPA to assist in review of the budget.


Last year I was the only council member to produce a budget separate from that of the executive. The only council members to do their own review of the budget were Billy Shreve and I. Councilman Shreve could not get his questions answered from the executive's staff and he simply ran out of time. I could not get answers as well, so we had to ad lib a few items.


In case you didn't know, Mr. Shreve and I get treated like third graders on a time-out by the executive, her staff and Council President Bud Otis.


Here's an example. If I have a question of staff on any issue, even a constituent issue that is directed to me, I contact my assistant, who contacts our chief-of-staff, who contacts the county executive's chief administration officer, who contacts County Executive Gardner. She then decides whether or not I can have a conversation with the staff member.  More often than not, the answer is “No.”


Here’s a real life example of how Executive Gardner uses her authority to help businesses. I had an inquiry recently from a local trash hauler that has had items from a contract he is hauling to the landfill, banned from dumping.


Upon his request to me, I requested to speak to county staff about this issue. I went to my assistant, who went to our chief-of-staff, who went to CAO Doug Browning, who went to County Executive Gardner and my request to approach staff about this issue was denied.


After a few choice words showing my dismay with this decision, I was afforded, however, one phone call to a staff member. As I see it, prisoners at the county jail get more than one phone call, I guess that’s where we rate in the executive’s eyes.


After the phone call I was not satisfied that my constituent was receiving justice. A few weeks ago I made a formal inquiry and as of this writing, no response from Executive Gardner or her staff.


Here we have a county business, doing business in the county, paying taxes in the county, employing people in the county, being blocked from using the one county resource that is required by his business. I, as an elected official, can’t speak to staff to get an answer. That is complete insanity and in no way a proper way to run a government effectively for the people.


Yes, this is the “Open and Transparent Government,” where everyone can be part of the process," according to the mantra of Candidate Jan Gardner during her campaign. There is nothing open or transparent in this county government today. It is a complete politburo that targets businesses and individuals that disagree with their agenda.


County Executive Gardner has in her budget a $10.5 million increase above Maintenance of Effort (MOE) for Frederick County Public Schools. Keep in mind, MOE is already an increase over last year's FCPS budget, so she is increasing the increase by $10.5 million.


Again, the interesting thing is that we have two FCPS employees on the county council who will vote on this budget. This increase will fund their employer and funds their salaries.


Yes, these councilmen somehow with a straight face vote on the budget that funds their employer and ultimately their own salaries. These are the same people who voted with the county executive and President Otis to disallow my company to bid on work in the county.


Let me clarify the hypocrisy. If my company bids on work in the county, I am guaranteed nothing, and if I happen to be low bidder, we are thus the best deal for the taxpayer.


Recently my company bid on, and was awarded, a project for the Town of Walkersville. We saved the Town $300,000 with our bid and donated over $1,500 of work to a local church adjacent to our work site.


County taxpayers won’t see savings like this since I was banned (after the fact) from bidding work in Frederick County after joyfully being elected by the people.


Now, the two FCPS employees, who are also council members, by voting on this $10.5 million increase of your money, are "guaranteed" that their employer and possibly their own salaries will benefit. They see no issue with this.


You can see now with this type of logic running our county, it's easy to see why transgender bathrooms appear to be normal as we've thrown all morals and common sense out the window. We're back to the 1960s mantra of "if it feels good, do it." More to come later on the budget, we just received it a week or so ago, so it's still kind of fresh off the press.


I am currently also working to do a build/leaseback program for county schools. County Executive Gardner has been involved in county government for over 20 years. Early in her government career, she voted to increase impact fees for schools 300%. It didn't solve the problem then and as she's increasing these fees again today by as much as 60%, the math shows this same tired solution will not work.


We have two local developers who have stepped up and agreed to forward fund bond issuances for two elementary schools. While this is a wonderful and noble thing, it is not a long term solution. I find it ironic that the very people the county executive demonizes on a daily basis, are the very people pulling her out of the fire by stepping up to put their money up front for schools and to help solve the problem, short term.


My build/leaseback program (still in the development stages) should end the school debate once and for all. We can build schools privately and lease them back, thus giving both predictability and more bang for the taxpayer buck in the process.


My plan will allow long term planning for schools and as long as we elect fiscally responsible adults into future office, we should never have an issue building schools again. I still have a lot to do on this program, but, preliminarily, it appears it could be a long term answer to what has been an ongoing problem in this county for decades.


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