Commissioners pass $391M FY 2018 budget
Officials haggle over sheriff’s office fund balance request
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.”