Coun­cil may cut bud­get Tues­day

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By CHERYL MATTIX

cmat­tix@ce­cil­whig.com

— Ce­cil County Pub­lic Li­brary’s plan to spend $19.9 mil­lion on a new 30,000-square-foot, twos­tory li­brary to be built on a 3.5 acre par­cel in the North East Sta­tion shop­ping cen­ter could be fac­ing a bud­get chal­lenge this year.

Ce­cil County Coun­cil mem­bers ap­pears poised to make cuts, al­though not dra­co­nian, to County Ex­ec­u­tive Tari Moore’s pro­posed fis­cal year 2017 county bud­get when they vote Tues­day.

Al­though no firm de­ci­sions will be made un­til the coun­cil’s work ses­sion Tues­day morn­ing, it seemed clear af­ter two bud­get de­lib­er­a­tion ses­sions this week that cuts are on the way.

The cap­i­tal bud­get is un­der closer scru­tiny this year than the op­er­at­ing bud­get, judged by dis­cus­sions to date.

Coun­cil­man Dan Sch­neck­en­burger had a list of bud­get ques­tions and sug­gested cuts the coun­cil ad­dressed dur­ing de­lib­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing a $5.8 mil­lion cut to the re­main­ing $18.6 mil­lion to be funded for a new li­brary in North East that sparked a heated de­bate.

The to­tal es­ti­mated cost of a new li­brary for the town of North East is $19.9 mil­lion, in­clud­ing the cost of the land, de­sign, en­gi­neer­ing, con­struc­tion and equip­ment.

ELK­TON

The project has al­ready re­ceived $1.3 mil­lion in fund­ing for the land pur­chase.

“We are go­ing to ap­prove a five-year plan,” Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Robert Hodge said, not­ing li­brary of­fi­cials need to know they have sup­port so they can move ahead with this project.

“I’ve done my re­search on this and I think we can build a heck of a li­brary for $12 mil­lion,” Sch­neck­en­burger said.

“I took a tour of the li­brary in Har­ford County and I was im­pressed,” Hodge said. “But, in my opin­ion, Ce­cil County is more prac­ti­cal and more fru­gal.”

“I’m not sug­gest­ing Ce­cil County has to cut the size of the build­ing for the new li­brary,” said Hodge, not­ing his con­cerns are more in line with hav­ing enough fund­ing for other fu­ture cap­i­tal projects or unan­tic­i­pated op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Coun­cil­man Ge­orge Patchell weighed in, agree­ing, at least in part, with Hodge and Sch­neck­en­burger.

“We do need to stretch our money to look toward the long term at all cap­i­tal projects, in­clud­ing Ce­cil Col­lege, Pub­lic Works and Ce­cil County Pub­lic Schools,” Patchell said. “We all agree we need a li­brary in North East, but what it looks like is up to them.”

Coun­cil Vice Pres­i­dent Alan McCarthy, who is run­ning for county ex­ec­u­tive in No- vem­ber, took a dif­fer­ent view.

“I don’t think they have any plans to make it look like the li­brary we saw in Har­ford County,” McCarthy said, ex­press­ing con­cern the li­brary project could lose state fund­ing if the county cuts its por­tion back.

“You want to take away one of our ma­jor as­sets,” he told his col­leagues. Hodge shot back. “As County Ex­ec­u­tive Alan McCarthy, you could come back and in­crease this amount if you want to,” Hodge said.

“In my opin­ion,” Hodge said, “we haven’t set enough pa­ram­e­ters on cap­i­tal projects.”

Sch­neck­en­burger pro­posed a few other small cuts to roads de­part­ment bud­get this week, prompt­ing Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Works Scott Flani­gan to warn the coun­cil that any fur­ther re­duc­tions in the roads bud­get, which has “taken a big hit this year” could re­sult in less pot-hole patch­ing.

Coun­cil mem­bers quizzed staff from Emer­gency Ser­vices and the De­ten­tion Cen­ter about why over­time pay is so large, learn­ing much of the high over­time costs are be­cause of high turnover rates of em­ploy­ees and many un­filled po­si­tions.

Some other cap­i­tal projects will likely be funded, but spread over two years, or par­tially de­layed, coun­cil mem­bers said.

Hodge asked his col­leagues to con­sider if they vote to cut any of the op­er­at­ing bud­get, would their goal be to cut the tax rate or to re­plen­ish the unas­signed fund bal­ance.

“We’ll get a con­sen­sus on cuts Tues­day,” Hodge said.

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