Board of Education Carroll Report Commissioners Headline

Carroll County Budget Crunch: $30M Deficit Doom, Education Blueprint, and Public Library Activism Dominate Budget Debates

The fiscal battleground of Carroll County heated up last week as commissioners tackled a looming deficit projected to exceed $30 million by 2030. In a series of intense sessions, discussions ranged from employee salary increases to the contentious Maryland Blueprint for Education, showcasing the county’s financial tightrope walk.

The first clash emerged in an April 2nd work session, where belt-tightening measures took center stage. Commissioner Mike Guerin’s push for a 4% increase in employee salaries, rather than the proposed 5.5%, ignited sparks of debate. “If we’re serious about getting this budget down, we cannot give 5.5% to the employees,” Guerin asserted, backed by a narrow 3-2 vote.

The education sector wasn’t spared from scrutiny. On April 4th, the school system’s request for an extra $10.8 million, coupled with the burdensome Maryland Blueprint for Education, added fuel to the fiscal fire. “Dr. Kirwin may have known more about education than finances,” quipped Commissioner Rothstein, highlighting the mounting pressure.

Despite the financial storm, Carroll County continues to sail against the tide, unlike neighboring counties contemplating education spending cuts amidst the Blueprint’s hefty price tag. This defiance was palpable as the commissioners, by another 3-2 vote, earmarked an additional $6 million for education on top of the $7 million already included in the baseline budget, gearing up for a joint budget pow-wow with the Board of Education on April 10th.

The library budget also came under scrutiny, with Commissioner Kiler’s salvos aimed at the library system’s political activism. Kiler’s motion to maintain current funding levels, potentially saving $312K, resonated with those seeking fiscal prudence amidst accusations of using taxpayer funds for political agendas.

“They chose battles with Carroll County Public Schools and us. If they want to start a battle, I’m willing to jump in. I didn’t start it,” said Kiler.

While proponents feel this is a step in the right direction, they believe there’s more room to cut the public library budget. Carroll County ranks 5th out of Maryland’s 24 counties for funding per capita and already has the highest number of physical books/media materials per capita in the state. Only half of the county’s residents are registered with the library.

Non-profit funding faced the chopping block too, with Commissioner Guerin questioning the $43 thousand allocation for the Carroll Arts Center. Guerin’s stance echoed concerns about fiscal responsibility and accountability, pointing to the center’s substantial revenues and controversial uses of public funds.

The center recently hosted exhibits in its annual Peep Show event that attacked the public school community for what it called “banned books”. The banned book argument has been a false narrative pushed by leftist activists outraged by the removal of age-inappropriate materials, some of which happened to contain LGBTQIA+ themes.

Tax hikes loomed on the horizon, with Commissioner Rothstein having led the charge to ease supermajority requirements for tax increases. The debate underscored the commissioners’ delicate dance between raising revenues and making tough spending cuts in the face of a daunting deficit.

Rothstein has continued to suggest in most of the budgeting sessions that tax increases are inevitable, while his colleagues have been more forceful in finding ways to reduce spending before asking taxpayers to pay more. If taxes were to be raised to the highest possible levels, it would generate an additional $11.5 million.

Commissioner Joe Vigliotti reminded the board that “even if we raised all the taxes that we could, it still wouldn’t be enough” to cover the $12.4 million deficit.

As the budget saga unfolds, Carroll County remains a battleground of fiscal responsibility and tough decisions.  No budgetary decision is final until the final budget is approved.

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