Council Considers More Budget Amendments On Tuesday

They also look at a new franchise agreement with Comcast.


Frederick, Md (KM) Some additional funding could be set aside in Frederick County’s fiscal year 2019 budget for the Emergency Communications Center. The Council on Tuesday approved an amendment to take  $132,902 in budget cuts and re-allocate it to the 911 center. “This money will go toward more staff as it’s less expensive in some of those staffing areas. And this is also a priority of mine in last year’s budget cycle. So that was my reasoning,” says Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater, who made the passing motion.

“They have by far the highest turnover due to working conditions,” says Councilman Jerry Donald, who voted for the amendment.

Councilmen Tony Chmelik, Kirby Delauter and Billy Shreve abstained.

Another related amendment came from Councilman Chmelik. He proposed cutting  $5,221,771 set aside in the budget for step pay increases for employees. He wanted that money to be re-allocated to the Sheriff’s Office, fire and rescue and the Emergency Communications Center. “I would still vote for the constant {yield} rate, and ask that the County Executive look at it at a little bit different and take those part  of the steps for county employees,  which is well above the cost of inflation over the past seven years, and re-allocate those funds to fire fighters, to 911,” he says.

Chmelik says county employees have received several pay increases since 2013 of 9.5%, while the inflation rate has remained steady.

“I’m not here trying to say ‘cut their pay,'” he said. “What I’m saying is re-allocate the resources to the folks who have been on the back side of these bad budgets for years. That’s what I’m saying.”

But County Budget Director Rick Harcum said passing this amendment will have consequences. “No county employee gets any increase, including fire fighters, including Sheriff’s Office employees,” he said.

He also said this money has a specific purpose. “And the $5.2-million that we’re talking about here is to fund the merit increase for regular county employees; to fund the step increase for the Sheriff’s employees; and to fund the proposal we made to the fire fighters’ union,” says Harcum.

The Council voted against that amendment.

In other business, a new, 10-year, cable TV franchise agreement with Comcast was presented to the Council, replacing the current one which dates back to 2007. It would increase the service availability area  for customers. Comcast would provide subscriber service where there are 20 homes per road mile, compared to 25 homes per road  mile under the old contract. The new agreement would also require Comcast to maintain a customer service office which is convenient to Frederick County customers. The company currently has a customer service office on Route 26 in Frederick, which it says it will maintain for three years.

In addition, Comcast has agreed to upgrade the County Government Channel to high definition within one-year of the new franchise. The County School System and Frederick Community College’s cable channels would be upgraded to high definition at a later date.

“I think Comcast gave on many things. I think in other cases, we gave. I think it was an effective negotiation where both parties ended up with an agreement that neither one of us were happy with everything that was negotiated, but we came away with an agreement that both parties can live with,” says Tom Dixon, the County;s Chief Information Officer.

Dixon also says this is not an exclusive franchise. . “We made it very clear this is not just for Comcast,” he said. “The county is open and encourages other cable TV providers to come into Frederick County.

During the discussion, Councilman Kirby Delauter said that prior to the beginning of negotiations in 2016, County Executive Jan Gardner received a $500 donation from Comcast. “Why would they think they had to give a large donation to somebody right before they entered negotiations. Some people might consider that unethical,” he said.

Chief Administrative Officer Ray Barnes said he was not familiar with the contribution. “The County Executive wasn’t involved in the negotiations. It was all handled at the staff level,” he said.

The Council is expected to vote on the franchise agreement at a later date.


By Kevin McManus