Council may cut budget Tuesday
— 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.
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.