Council Hears More Testimony ON Proposed FY 2017 Budget

The panel also agrees to hold a hearing on the property tax rate.

Members of the Frederick County Council on Tuesday evening took more testimony on the County Executive’s proposed fiscal year 2017 budget.

Most of the citizens who spoke expressed support for a new Walkersville public library. Town Commissioner Mary Ann Brodie-Ennis said the current facility is too small. “We do have a library which doesn’t have enough computers for our students and our community to access WiFi that can’t afford WiFi on their own,” she said. “We have a  library that services all different age levels, more than just taking books in and out.”

Library Board Trustee George Laugelli said this new library will be large enough to serve the town of Walkersville, and areas to the east. “The new library will be bigger by 12,500 square feet. It will have a 50% larger collection and six times as many computers for the public use, not to mention improvements improvements in parking and accessibility,” he says.

Following the hearing, Councilman Billy Shreve talked about using some “empty space” in Walkersville for the new library, instead of constructing a new building. He suggested the use of the now-closed Red Cross building.

Also speaking was Libby Burmaster, the President of Frederick Community College. She said the $700,000 earmarked in the County Executive’s budget will be used to provide a 1% cost of living increase for employees, and to increase the number of full time security officers on campus. “In order to provide the consistency and the training required  to implement the college’s emergency management procedures, we need to increase our full time security officers,” she said.

Burmaster also said funding was provided for the Monroe Center along Monroe Avenue near the Fairgrounds. “We have secured the state match for that project which will renovate and reconfigure approximately 40,000 square feet of the Monroe Center to expand the ability of the college to provide Frederick County with workforce training in both existing and newly added  trade and technical programs,” she said. In addition, Burmaster says the County’s Workforce Services will relocate to the Monroe Center.

The Council also heard from Dale Kline from the Frederick County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association. He asked that the county fund a recruiter to help bring in more volunteers to the fire service. “The young lady’s position held over the last three years has brought 400 possible volunteer members. Roughly, we get one out of four to stay with us,” he said. “Think of it this way: for everyone we get possibly saves the county $70,000 in  payroll.”

The Council has scheduled budget workshops for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Earlier in the day, the panel agreed to hold a public hearing on the county’s property tax rate for fiscal year 2017. The current rate is $1.06 per $100 of assessed value. By the law, the county is required to hold the hearing if the proposed tax rate exceeds the constant yield, which is $1.0362 per $100 of assessed value. The constant yield will bring in the same amount of revenue in fiscal year 2017 that it current collects this year.

County Executive Jan Gardner has proposed that the property tax rate remain at $1.06 per $100 of assessed value in fiscal year 2017. She has said her budget contains no tax increase, but Councilman Kirby Delauter took exception. “I think we should to bed the fact that we don’t have a tax increase,” he says.

Councilman Tony Chmelik is also bothered at the County Executive saying it’s not a tax increase when it is. “What disappoints me is when the I hear publicly when the County Executive says there is no tax increase. That bothers me,” he said.

But Council Vice President MC Keegan-Ayer said voting for this motion does not increase anyone’s taxes. “All this motion is doing is asking that we take this proposal to a public hearing. So you can actually vote for this motion that then takes it to a public hearing and the public can come in and tell whether they like it;  whether they don’t like it. Whether they consider it a tax increase;  whether they don’t consider it a tax increase,” she says.

Councilman Chmelik wanted to pass the constant yield rate and not bother with the hearing. “If I didn’t take it to the public then we would have to go ahead and adopt a constant yield in which case we would not have to go the public with a tax increase,” he says. “So if we don’t do it, we’re basically telling the County Executive ‘you’re going to get the tax revenue with the constant yield, not with the constant rate.’ So there is a reason not to vote for it.”

But Councilwoman Keegan-Ayer said this could lead to reductions in the budget. “If, for some reason, this Council is not able to come up with enough cuts in the budget to enable us to fund the budget at the rate that is reduced, you then don’t have a balanced budget,” she said.

In the end, the Council voted 4-3 to take the proposed property tax rate to a public hearing. Councilmen Chmelik, Delauter and Billy Shreve voted in opposition.