Citizens asked for increases for school system, Animal Control, MET.
Frederick, Md (KM) It’s the beginning of the fiscal year 2018 budget drafting process for Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner. She held a hearing Monday night to listen to citizens express what they want in a new spending plan.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Theresa Alban thanked the county for providing increased funding last year so a new salary scale for teachers could be put in place. “We took that first step and I’m very proud to share with your that we’re no longer at the bottom on what we pay starting teachers in the state. We moved up to rank 20. Not where we ultimately want to end, but remember this is intended to be a four-year journey,” she said. Dr. Alban says she hopes to move the county up to the top third in starting teacher salaries in Maryland.
Board of Ed President Brad Young said the school system will concentrate next year on reducing class sizes. “As you know, two years ago, we made a very tough decision to increase class size to meet our budget and to give our staff a pay increase,” he said.
At a recent public information session, County Executive Gardner said she increased funding last year for the school system by $10.5-million over maintenance of effort.
In addition to the school system, there were calls for more funding for the Animal Shelter. Elizabeth Brown, whose a volunteer for the shelter, said the staff do an excellent job with very limited resources. “Shelter staff know animals. They love animals. They want to save each one. They do their best to compensate for the poor treatment these animals have received,” she said. “But often it’s nearly impossible with the current level of kennel staff. They have eight kennel staff versus the recommended minimum of 10 to 15 for a shelter this size.”
Brown recommended that two additional kennel staff, a part time foster care coordinator and a part time behaviorist. And the part time veterinarian paid by donations should be paid by the county. However, she said at the minimum the county should provide funding for two additional kennel staffers.
Lean Flemming also asked County Executive Gardner provide funds for more animal control officers. “It’s not the easiest of jobs. And when one of them is out or even on light duty, it puts a lot of stress on the other officers that remain. It makes it very difficult for them to take the time off that they’re owed,” she said.
Representatives from the Maryland Ensemble Theater asked that the county provide funding for the “Artist is Residence” program at elementary schools. It’s currently in place at Hillcrest and Lincoln Elementary. In addition to learning about the theater and putting on productions, these students learn more about themselves and what they can do, according to MET Board Member Judy Rice. “The more our children get to participate in these activities, the more confidence they have in themselves, the higher their self esteem rises and, ultimately, they’re more successful academically and socially,” she said.
Even though it’s early in the budget drafting process, County Executive Gardner said there is some good news to report. “We don’t have a deficit this year which we did have the first year I was in office when I came. And we continue to see modest revenue growth,” he said.
Budget Officer Rick Harcum said tax rates will not increase this year. The property tax rate is $1.06 per $100 of assessed value, and income tax rate is 2.96%. He also said property values and incomes are going up. So far in the budget process, revenues will be going up by 3.9% to $582-million for fiscal year 2018.
Harcum said a majority of the spending in the budget is for mandatory items, and only 18% is discretionary funding.
The County Executive is expected to hold another budget hearing in March. She will present her proposed fiscal year 2018 budget to the County Council in April, which will hold its own hearings. The Council is scheduled to adopt the spending plan on May 31st.
By Kevin McManus