Cumberland Times-News

May 8, 2014

Public to get its say on county’s 2015 budget proposal

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — One of two hearings that will allow comment on Allegany County’s proposed budget is scheduled Thursday at 5 p.m. during a meeting of county commissioners.

Commissioners have said they encourage public comment and have scheduled a second hearing May 15. The budget is scheduled to be approved by commissioners June 5. The budget is tight because of a drop in income tax revenue. Some of the key features of the budget include a 3 percent cost of living increase for county staff and static funding for all but a few countyaffiliated and outside agencies. The cost of living increase will total $395,000, county officials said. No new county staff positions have been created in the budget, officials said.

The proposed operating budget for fiscal 2015 is $82,142,773, a reduction of $524,659 from the 2014 budget. One item helping with the budget is a reduction in the county’s debt service, the amount the county must pay in interest to those who hold the county’s bonds for capital projects. For fiscal 2015, that will be a reduction of $449,618, largely through the county refinancing its debt at lower interest rates available in recent years

along with the county’s improving bond rating.

At 46.5 percent, or nearly $37 million of the county’s budget, education funding is the single largest expenditure for Allegany County, Jason Bennett, the county’s finance director, has said. Other major expenditures include 19.8 percent, or close to $16 million, of the budget for public safety and law enforcement; 12.2 percent, or about $10 million, for public works; and 10 percent, or just more than $8 million, for general government expenses.

The board of education will not receive the 3 percent, or $909,499, increase that it requested. In fact, the school system will have funding reduced by $351,901 for 2015. County staff said the number was justified by a decline in enrollment in county schools.

While most outside agencies will be flat funded, a few could receive increases. The Allegany County Health Department will be funded in line with its requests. Bennett said the request was largely based on required salary and benefit increases from the state, along with a mental health program in the schools that was developed with the county to increase school security.

About 50 percent of the county’s revenue comes from local property taxes, another 28 percent comes from local income tax, and state and federal revenues account for about 12 percent of the budget. Other funding sources make up the remaining county revenue. While overall property assessments were down, revenue from property taxes was slightly up, Bennett has said.

County income tax revenue, though, was down $858,711.

County commissioners have already committed new revenue, expected to be about $700,000 a year, coming in from the Rocky Gap Casino slots operations. The money will go to a program that funds, in large part, scholarships to Allegany College of Maryland and Frostburg State University, with smaller sums for other programs, including fire and rescue services.

The meeting will take place at county offices on Kelly Road.