Some Challenges To Crafting FY 2019 Operating Budget For Frederick County

One is trying to match the revenues with the spending.

Frederick, Md (KM). Work continues on drafting a fiscal year 2019 operating budget for Frederick County. But the task has not been easy.

Rick Harcum, Budget Office Director, told the County Council on Tuesday that trying to meet the mandated and contractual obligations and other requests with the revenues coming in is difficult. “This year has been challenging beyond description because of federal tax reform that’s going on, and some wild fluctuations in what has been historically been a pretty steady state  revenue stream coming into the county on the income tax  side,” he said.

But property tax revenue has been steady and stable, says Harcum, and the accessible base is going up by 4% again this year.

County Executive Jan Gardner, who plans to release her proposed fiscal year 2019 operating budget on Thursday, April 12th, says she will not call for an increase in the property tax rate.

Harcum also told the Council that the County is constrained when it comes to spending choices. He says there are mandates and contractual obligations which take up the bulk of the revenues which come into the county. An example cited by Harcum is public school education. “This year coming up, we’ve had almost 800 new students enrolled in Frederick County Public School System. There’s a legal formula in place;  you do the math. $5-million just got eaten up. No matter else happens, we’re legally obliged to spend $5-million more than we spent last year for the county school system,” he says.

In addition to public schools, Harcum says the county is also required to have a sheriff’s office, a detention center, a court house and court house security,  and a health department, among other obligations.

He says another operational cost expected to go up this year is the detention center. “We just renewed the contract out at the Adult Detention Center for inmate medical services. And the cost came in at almost $350,000,” says Harcum. “What we hear from the folks who run the Detention Center is the inmate population that’s coming in is sicker, needier and more challenging to manage, and that turns into higher and higher requirements to take care of these people because they’re incarcerated in our care. There’s really not much you can do to control that kind of stuff.”

A few  years ago, the County applied for and received funding from the SAFER grant, which is money from the federal government to hire and train additional 41 fire fighters. They would transfer to the county payroll once the federal grant ran out. “FY ’19 is the beginning of that funds running out process. Those fire fighters are going to come on to the county payroll. So you’re going to see an increase in the county general fund budget,” Harcum says.

“The challenge that we’re facing this year is the base cost–kind of the uncontrollable–are going up about 2%. And base revenues are going up about 1%. So it’s been a very difficult process to go through so far in the budget,” he says.

After the County Executive unveils her budget on April 12th, the Council will hold its hearings on the School System part of the spending plan on Monday, April 16th, and on the rest of the budget on Tuesday, April 17th. Council members will also have all-day workshops on April 25th, 26th and 27th.


By Kevin McManus