Carroll Report Commissioners

Grueling Budget Season Nears End, Gordon: “Let’s do next year completely different”

Today, the Carroll County Commissioners enter what some expect to be their final budgeting session of the season, where the stage has been set to increase spending by $25 million for fiscal year 2024 with no tax increases on the table.

The budget finale will follow last Thursday’s grueling session, where Commissioner Ed Rothstein and Ted Zaleski, Director of Management & Budget, were hoping to get a rubber stamp for the staff’s proposed budget that included an increase to recordation taxes, but would come up short as the board members spent more than 3 hours deliberating the tax increase, refunding Agriculture Preservation (Ag Pres) and how to close a $3.8 million budget gap.

Commissioner Ken Kiler would open the session with a motion to use half-a-million of one-time funds to provide a 1% bonus to government employees on top of 4.5% salary increases already proposed in the budget.

“I feel like we owe it to the county employees.”

Rothstein would quickly second, but Commissioners Mike Guerin, Joe Vigliotti would put the brakes on the move.  

“We’re raising fees, we’re raising taxes, we reduced the budget for Ag Pres, we found a way to spend $25 million more dollars, and we’re here on May 11th, trying to find a way to spend more.  I just disagree.  I think we should be trying to find ways to cut more money and not tax people.  It seems like we’re going the opposite direction”, said Guerin.  

“We really did struggle to get to a place where we balanced things.  We’ve been attempting to justify the increase in the recordation tax commensurate with cuts and reassignment of certain funds”, followed Vigliotti.

In Commissioner Tom Gordon’s opening statement, he would back Guerin and Vigliotti and insist on restoring Ag Pres funding for future years.

“We haven’t technically cut Ag Pres this year, but tell that to all the people I got phone calls from, most of them aren’t even in my district, that support Ag Pres…I prefer to see $1.5 million back for next year even though it’s not in this year’s budget.”

Gordon would go on to signal that the budget discussions were far from over. 

“We need to take a harder look at this budget. We all know it’s not easy…I think we need to not be sitting here making the assumption we’re going to be done today.”

“I have real challenges that we’re $25 million up over last budget.  If we’re not careful, we’re going to be the ‘tax and spend’ commissioners.  I didn’t come here to be a ‘tax and spend’ commissioner.”

The Commissioners would go on to discuss the proposed recordation tax increase, with Guerin and Gordon holding firm against raising taxes on the community in the face of rising inflation and a possible recession.

“We need 4 of us to agree to raise the rates, and it does not look like we have it”, said Vigliotti.

The conversation would then pivot to identify how to close the $3.9 million budget gap.

“3.9 million is less than 1% of a $564 million budget.  If we can’t find less than 1% of this budget to cut, we might have way more to deal with next year when we have to figure out if we’re going to even add revenue or not”, said Guerin.  “Cut is not even the right word.  It’s just a decrease in the increase.”

Vigliotti would then suggest the board look at reducing one-time funding for capital projects such as the proposed parking garage for Carroll County Government, the PFAS water project, and Piney Run Dam.

Generally there was reluctance amongst the commissioners in using one-time funding to balance the budget, but agreed that this would be the best way forward to avoid raising taxes. Reducing funding for these projects is expected to be one of the topics on the table for today’s budgeting session.

Commissioner Gordon alluded several times during Thursday’s that fundamental reforms would be needed to balance future budgets.  

“Let’s get this one done, but let’s look at things a little deeper than we’ve ever looked at them.  Let’s not just look at the recommended budget, let’s look 6 levels down.”

“One of the greatest things about the people in this community is that we get together and we figure out how to get things done.  So let’s get through this budget and let’s get it done, and let’s do next year completely different.”

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