Cumberland Times-News

December 9, 2013

Garrett County faces bleak financial forecast

Elaine Blaisdell
Cumberland Times-News

— OAKLAND — The Garrett County financial forecast for fiscal 2015 looks bleak due to the fact that the county is facing a total projected loss of $5.4 million, according to a news release.

A previous estimate of a $2.5 million projected loss of real property tax revenue has increased by $700,000, to $3.2 million, based on the revision of assessable base calculations, according to Monty Pagenhardt, county administrator. On Nov. 30, the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation produced valued assessable base calculations that confirmed the projected loss in real property tax revenue. This additional loss, coupled with the loss of $2.2 million in revenue for the Garrett County Public School System, equates to a total projected loss of $5.4 million.

The contraction of property tax revenue over the past three fiscal years equates to a loss of actual revenue of $2.8 million or 5.85 percent, according to a news release.

At this point there is nothing that can be done to alleviate the dire financial loss, according to Pagenhardt.

In order to help close some of the gap, Garrett County Public Schools is proceeding with the school closure process for Crellin, Friendsville and Route 40 elementary schools. Even if three schools are closed, grades in the northern schools are reconfigured and school boundary lines are adjusted, it won’t be enough to close the $2.2 million budget gap, according to Paul Swanson of Facility Engineering Associates. Swanson noted his finding during a presentation of the elementary school facility needs assessment and master plan study in October.

Pagenhardt, along with the commissioners and senior staff with the department of financial services, has been working on long-term budgetary planning and a budget proposal that will be presented publically, according to the news release. A this point, a date for the budget presentation hasn’t been determined and the goal is to figure out a date in the next few weeks, according to Pagenhardt.

“A lot is still not final but we do know we have to react to the realistic deficit numbers,” said Pagenhardt.

The commissioners have reviewed a fiscal 2014 to 2017 structural deficit model that includes estimated revenue, operating expenses and capital outlay/projects, according to the news release. This forecast and assumptions for appropriating public funding for all county government departments, component units and offices will be part of the public presentation that will disclose a preliminary fiscal 2015 budget to include the appropriation level for the school system.

For more information on the assessable base estimates, visit http://www.dat.state.md.us/.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.