Commissioner Ed Rothstein Proposes Tax Increases To Close Budget Gap
But is this the only solution? We need our new commissioners to make sure.
Since being sworn in, new Carroll County Commissioners Mike Guerin, Joe Vigliotti, Ken Kiler and Tom Gordon, have attended a whirlwind of meetings, town halls and work sessions, alongside self-appointed president Ed Rothstein, concerning the county’s upside-down budget. Throughout all of the discussions one message has become abundantly clear: The county is facing “challenging times” and in order for a budget to be created that meets the needs of Carroll County residents, difficult decisions have to be made. Carroll County Public Schools’ implementation of the state-mandated Blueprint, the newly formed Fire and EMS department, and the new $30 million sheriff’s headquarters are on a long list of needs as the FY24 budget season gets underway.
During last Wednesday’s, January 11th, joint budgeting session between the commissioners, CCPS superintendent Cynthia McCabe, and the board of education, Rothstein attempted to pin the budget deficit to the school system’s Blueprint mandates (formerly Kirwin) and that taxes would likely need to be raised to bridge the gap.
The Carroll County Observer covered Rothstein’s tax increase proposal, which includes either a 3 cent increase for every $100 in property taxes or increasing the income tax rate from 3.02% to 3.20%. The Observer and other social media commenters correctly pointed out that Carroll currently has similar if not higher tax rates compared to other Maryland counties. To add insult to injury, many lower tax counties provide services that Carroll currently doesn’t offer, such as Fire/EMS and trash.
Considering Carroll County’s already high tax rates, why is Rothstein so adamant about raising taxes this early in the budget process?
To answer this question, one must look at the last 4 years of questionable decisions made by Rothstein and the commissioner board, where it becomes clear that raising taxes, and using Blueprint/school funding as the scapegoat, was always the plan. Several statements from the commissioners suggested tax increases would be on the horizon to maintain their high levels of spending, but would be kicked to the next elected board for them to deal with the consequences.
“Could there be tax increases on the horizon as a result of [the recommendations from the Kirwan Commission]?…Absolutely, and I did not want to put anything in play this year on the backs of our citizens, knowing that we could have to do something in the next several,” said Stephen Wantz in a 2019 article. He continued, “It’s another reason the tax rates were kept flat, for now, in the FY20 budget…That’s the theme of this budget, holding the line in anticipation.”
Former county commissioner and current state delegate Eric Bouchat had serious concerns about the numbers just 9 months ago and voted against the FY23 budget. “This is going to create a nightmare for the people who replace us.”
Even former left-leaning commissioner Dennis Frazier voted against the planned FY23 budget, stating that “This budget makes me uneasy because of the out years..We should look at possibly ‘restoring’ taxes.”
Considering the difficult situation the current commissioners are in, Bouchat was not far off the mark as we now see president-carryover Rothstein starting to lay the groundwork for tax increases.
In the meantime, the Carroll community looks to newly elected commissioners Guerin, Vigliotti, Kiler and Gordon to reverse course, and at the very least ask the tough questions.
For example, why has there been over 25 million dollars in planned budget deficits baked into FY27 and beyond when clearly the prior board knew additional expenditures like Blueprint and Fire/EMS were coming?
Another area to investigate is the substantial increase to the reserve budget. Prior to COVID the reserve budget hovered around 5 million dollars per fiscal year, but jumped to $16.1million for FY23 and $12+ million in subsequent years. Why such an increase, and can the budget return to pre-COVID levels in order to fund Blueprint and other programs?
Can other areas of the budget be targeted, such as the never-ending Charles Carroll Community Center project that started with a $1.5 million budget and has exploded to over $7 million?
And what about the $12 million given annually to Carroll Community College? Could the college instead increase tuition and fees to cover costs instead of being subsidized by our tax dollars? Moreover, part of the increased expense of the education Blueprint is offering “free” college credit to college-bound students. Could all or part of the $12 million we’re already spending on Carroll Community College be offset by part of the additional expense of Blueprint?
No doubt, balancing the budget will be a daunting task for the new commissioner board, but before Ed Rothstein advocates for new taxes, the constituents must be assured that no stone has been left unturned in the search for reduced spending.
If the 2022 elections made anything clear, it’s that Carroll County citizens are engaged and watching.
What can you do?
- Contact us to join the Informed Carroll County team to watch and summarize weekly Commissioners meetings and budget work sessions.
- Have an accounting or finance background? Checkout the Carroll County budget documents for yourself to see where your tax dollars are going and offer ideas on how the budget can be balanced.
- Sign up here to attend Budget Workshops and Commissioner TownHalls
- Participate in an email campaign encouraging our new commissioners to ask the hard questions of the directors and county staff so that we can be sure every stone is being turned this budget season. Click here for more information (coming soon).