Com­mis­sion­ers pass $391M FY 2018 bud­get

Of­fi­cials hag­gle over sher­iff’s of­fice fund bal­ance re­quest

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

Af­ter weeks of dis­cus­sion and de­lib­er­a­tion, the Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers passed its bud­get for the next fis­cal year.

The com­mis­sion­ers adopted a bud­get of $391.5 mil­lion — just over a 4 per­cent in­crease from the pre­vi­ous fis­cal year, ac­cord­ing to David Ei­choltz, the county’s direc­tor of fis­cal and ad­min­is­tra­tive ser­vices.

Com­mis­sion­ers’ Pres­i­dent Peter Mur­phy (D) said he looks for­ward to see­ing

the pos­i­tive ben­e­fits the county’s new bud­get will pro­vide to the res­i­dents of Charles County.

“I’m pleased the board of com­mis­sion­ers has adopted a sus­tain­able bud­get,” Mur­phy said.

Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) thanked Ei­choltz, Jenifer Ellin, the county’s chief of bud­get, and their staff for work­ing with the board through dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions for both the county’s cap­i­tal and op­er­at­ing bud­get.

“Thank you very much for putting up with us, ed­u­cat­ing us and for get­ting us through this process in a re­spon­si­ble man­ner,” Robin­son said.

The county also adopted a $147.5 mil­lion cap­i­tal bud­get for the fis­cal year with a ma­jor­ity of that funding go­ing to gen­eral gov­ern­ment costs to the tune of $77.6 mil­lion.

Ed­u­ca­tion and pub­lic safety bud­gets com­prise 76 per­cent of the county’s bud­get with $187.9 mil­lion and $102.8 mil­lion in bud­get to­tals, re­spec­tively.

In the bud­get, the county main­tained a $1.41 per $100 real prop­erty tax rate for the fis­cal year and a 3.03 per­cent in­come tax rate of state li­a­bil­ity. By the end of the fis­cal year, the county is pro­jected to have a $262,800 sur­plus.

Robin­son pro­posed a $1.6 mil­lion in­crease in the Charles County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion bud­get to fund the board’s bud­get re­quest, bring­ing that to­tal to $175.5 mil­lion. That in­crease will al­low the board to raise salaries for teach­ers and pub­lic school em­ploy­ees while also funding new English lan­guage learner and spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams.

Al­though the Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice did re­ceive a $4.6 mil­lion funding in­crease, the com­mis­sion­ers did not fully fund the of­fice’s re­quest of $93.7 mil­lion, nor did they ac­com­mo­date the re­quest for a $500,000 fund bal­ance for the of­fice.

Last week, when mak­ing in­di­vid­ual pro­pos­als for the bud­get, Com­mis­sion­ers De­bra Davis (D) and Bobby Rucci (D) made re­quests for the county to in­crease the of­fice’s funding by just un­der $700,000 for the ad­di­tion of five new of­fi­cers and two cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers.

How­ever, the board voted to only fund enough to add one ad­di­tional of­fi­cer and in­crease the salary of those al­ready on the force. The com­mis­sion­ers voted down, 2-3, on grant­ing the of­fice a fund bal­ance of $500,000 with Mur­phy, Robin­son and Com­mis­sion­ers’ Vice Pres­i­dent Amanda Ste­wart (D) be­ing the dis­sent­ing votes.

Ei­choltz said the county would need to shed some of their fund bal­ance to grant that re­quest. The county would be “los­ing flex­i­bil­ity,” he said, by grant­ing it.

“You open the op­por­tu­nity for other or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice or the Cir­cuit Court and other de­part­ments you fund for hav­ing their own fund bal­ance as well,” Ei­choltz said.

County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Michael Malli­noff said rat­ing agen­cies warn ju­ris­dic­tions about stretch­ing their funds among their dif­fer­ent de­part­ments. “The more you re­strict the use of your funds, the less flex­i­bil­ity you have,” he said.

That will “scru­ti­nize” the county’s abil­ity to pay its bills and bonds, Malli­noff said, which di­min­ishes its bond rat­ing. If the sher­iff’s of­fice was granted a fund bal­ance, he said, it would re­strict spend­ing to that par­tic­u­lar of­fice.

An­other thing to keep in mind, Malli­noff said, is that the sher­iff’s of­fice is pro­jected to be “break­ing even” on rev­enues and ex­pen­di­tures this fis­cal year. There re­ally is no “ad­van­tage” to grant­ing them a fund bal­ance this year, he said.

Robin­son said the sher­iff’s of­fice has never had to worry about a bud­get trans­fer re­quest from the county’s over­all fund bal­ance for its needs. That will not change this year, he said.

“When they have a le­git­i­mate re­quest and the money is there, it has al­ways been ap­proved,” Robin­son said. “I don’t see how keep­ing fund bal­ance in a sep­a­rate ac­count would help.”

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