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April 13, 2017

A Smoke and Mirrors Budget

Guest Columnist

Kirby Delauter


On April 15th the county executive will send her budget to the County Council, which will until May 31 to make any adjustments and approve her budget.


In March the executive wrote about a few things with the budget with which I don’t necessarily agree. So, to be clear, I think she is misleading the public on several things.


She speaks of the AAA bond rating as if it is something new. The last Board of County Commissioners (The Young Board) received the county’s first ever AAA bond rating. This happened long before she took office, yet she fails to give any credit to the prior administration.


She states that there will be no increase in the tax rate. Once again, she is misleading the public. The constant yield tax rate, when you set your budget, will yield the same amount of funding as the previous year. When the tax rate is set at $1.06 per thousand dollars of assessed value, and assessments go up, the county takes in more of your money.


As I have done for the past two years, I have made amendments to the executive’s budget to hold the constant yield in this current fiscal year at $1.0362 per thousand dollars of assessed value to reflect the same revenue received by the county in Fiscal 2016 from the property tax rate. By not doing this, it is a TAX INCREASE even as defined by the State Department of Assessments and Taxation.


The county executive uses smoke and mirrors to deflect from this fact and states she is not raising your taxes when in fact that is exactly what she is doing and has done every year she has been in office.


We just received the Board of Education’s FY 2018 operating budget request of $556,000,000, of which $258,000,000.00 comes from the county. Two things that caught my eye were the workers compensation increase from 2013 to 2017, increasing by $1 million, or a 73% hike, as well as the unemployment compensation for the same time frame an increase of $88,000, or 508%.


Maintenance of Effort funding is up $3.8 Million and salaries and benefits are up almost $18 million. While I’ve said that I don’t have an issue increasing salaries for teachers, I do have an issue with two council members that are teachers who will vote on the budget that – in this case – will increase their own salary and benefits.


The county executive made a big-to-do about her ethics reform, but somehow her blue ribbon task force left out the part where Frederick County Public Schools employees, who are elected council members, can vote on theirs and their employers’ salary and benefits, with your tax money.


Does this present an “appearance of impropriety?” You be the judge.


The budget item for schools is interesting. The executive notes Butterfly Ridge and Sugarloaf Elementary Schools opening in 2018 as accomplishments. Neither of these schools could have opened if local developers had not stepped up to forward fund the bond debt for both.


I put a school lease plan together that not only built these schools sooner, but did not require developers to forward fund what is the county’s core obligation to fund, schools. My lease plan added four schools (two more than the executive had in the budget) with an added cost of only $2 million, or 0.0037% of the budget. The county executive said this was too expensive.


She now wants to add taxpayer funds to place schools in the out years. Not only does this kick-the-can down the road, it will cost far more than the $2 million my plan put in place. Watch the smoke and mirrors – again.


I will once again do an alternative budget which holds the constant yield while still providing core services needed by county residents. Spending more doesn’t always equal the best outcome. We need to think outside the box from a private sector point of view. This county executive has spent the last 25 years in government. She is not in tune with how hard it has been for you to earn your paycheck and pay your bills. All she knows how to do is spend more of your hard-earned money with no regard as to how you must sacrifice to earn it.


The property assessments come in higher. The income tax from your labor comes in higher. So, she figures out how to spend it. That’s the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how to think outside the box and provide the services needed, while not using the taxpayer as an ATM.


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