Budget input starts early in Calvert
Citizens bring concerns to town hall
The Calvert County Department of Finance and Budget hosted a town hall Aug. 31 to present the county’s operating budget and capital improvement plan process to county citizens, some of whom voiced concerns about transparency and funding allocations in the budget.
County Administrator Terry Shannon and Deputy County Administrator Wilson Parran, as well as county department heads and capital project managers, were on hand to receive citizens’ input and answer questions about the budget and projects.
“We recognize in the county that financial planning is a critical component of any healthy organization, and county government is no different. It’s actually probably even more critical than in private industry because the source of funding is public funds,” said Shannon to a room of nearly 60 people at the Calvert Pines Senior Center in Prince Frederick.
“We know we are handling your hard-earned tax dollars and we do not take that lightly,” added Shannon.
Parran said it was important to get citizens’ input into both the operat-
ing budget and the capital improvement plan early in the process so that it can be incorporated into the staff-recommended budget before presentation to the Board of County Commissioners.
In October of each year, the Department of Budget and Finance begins collecting funding requests from various county offices and departments for their operational, staffing, maintenance and repair costs. This process continues through to January of the following year as the requests are vetted by staff, and work sessions are conducted with each office or department to adjust the requests.
The first three months of each calendar year, finance and budget staff develop revenue projections and updated revenue forecast for the next year. A work session is held with the board in September to set the expenditure spending guidance.
Items that budget and finance staff and the departments disagree on go onto to an unresolved list for the BOCC to decide on later. Outside funding requests from other non-county agencies are also considered.
In February, staff produces a staff-recommended budget book that will be posted to the county gov- ernment’s website, once completed. In March of each year, a public hearing is held on the staff-recommended budget. In April, the unresolved budget issues list is presented to the commissioners for their input via work session.
In May, the budget is adjusted to accommodate the BOCC’s desired changes. The commissioners hold a public hearing to unveil and discuss their budget. In June, the commissioners vote on the budget. The adopted budget takes effect July 1.
During the public comment period, Drum Point resident and 2018 candidate for county commissioner Tricia Powell suggested the county appoint a community advisory board, with participation from each district, to provide input into the prioritization of capital projects and to encourage greater transparency.
“When will you be incorporating those estimated $40 million into your budget?” asked Len Zuza of Solomons, referring to the tax revenue from the Dominion Cove Point LNG project. “Will you share with us places where those funds will be distributed?”
But finance and budget director Tim Hayden said he thinks of the revenues and expenses as a pool and said he “doesn’t believe we should really match the dollars like that.” Shannon informed the group that much of the money is going toward other post-employment benefits for county retirees, which is one of the larger expenditures in the budget.
“We need to be a little bit more proactive and I think it is well past time that we update our evacuation study,” suggested Judy Hooker of Prince Frederick, referencing the challenges in Houston due to Hurricane Harvey.
“We deserve our roads to be safe,” added Hooker, demanding road improvements after being stuck on the St. Mary’s side of the Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge for two and half hours last week after a traffic accident. “We’re tired of our traffic being the way it is and not having an effective evacuation system.”
Other residents asked about the status of expenditures on the planned Armory Square development project, to which Shannon said there is not much to share, as there has been no movement in commercial development, just preliminary conversations with a developer.
Finance and budget deputy director Joan Thorp shared that the county administration building is in the six-year capital improvement plan at $50 million.
On Sept. 19, finance and budget staff will kick off the budget process with a work session with the commissioners to review budget forecasts.