It featured distancing among the Council, County staff, the public.
Frederick, Md. (KM). It was a budget hearing unlike any held by the Frederick County Council in past years. It was a virtual hearing with with members and the county staff not at Winchester Hall, but a various locations all linked together by technology.
Access to WInchester Hall is limited due to the coronavirus emergency, but the County Charter requires the Council to hold hearings on the spending plan proposed by the County Executive.
Last week, County Executive Jan Gardner introduced a spending plan totaling $665-million She said it’s based on lower revenue estimates due to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis, noting that FY ’21 budget is based on fiscal year 2019 revenue estimates. It contains funding for the Board of Education which is $7-million above maintenance of effort. There are $50-million in budget appeals, and Gardner says they will not be funded in fiscal year 2021.
“I have to say in my entire life, I have never been through a budget process like this, ever, period:” said Chief Administrative Officer Rick Harcum.
“This is not a budget the County Budget the County Executive ever imagined proposing to you,” Harcum told the Council . “It left us all kind of on our heels about going through this process. But we’ve got a good solid rationale behind these revenue forecasts.”
Property taxes are estimated at $352-million and is 53% of the county’s revenue sources. “This represents both increasing value and new construction value,” says Budget Director Kelly Weaver.
She says income tax is estimated $236-million, and recordation tax is estimated $22-million. “Both of these have been reduced for prior estimates<” Weaver says.
Unlike past budget hearings where citizens lined up to testify, comments came into the Council by e-mail. Residents were also permitted to offer their testimony over the phone or on Facebook live. Anyone who couldn’t testify on Tuesday can offer comments until 5:00 PM on Wednesday if they want them to to be part of the record from Tuesday’s hearing.
Pre-recorded video testimony was presented by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Theresa Alban, who called on the Council to support the County Executive’s budget. “Though this amount is $21-million below the Board of Education’s budget request, we recognize that the recent COVID-19 pandemic has caused uncertainty in regards to the county’s projected revenues and expenses,” she said.
The Council will hold a workshop next Tuesday, April 28th on how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting the budget.
By Kevin McManus