Cumberland Times-News

Local News

May 5, 2014

County budget balanced despite drop in revenue

Education funding is single largest expenditure at nearly $37 million

CUMBERLAND — Allegany County commissioners seemed content with a balanced budget for fiscal year 2015 crafted in light of plummeting income tax revenue and a small reduction in the property tax rate.

The budget includes a 3 percent cost of living increase for county staff and only grants in-creased funding to a few county-affiliated and outside agencies. The cost of living increase will cost $395,000, county officials said.

A preliminary operating budget was presented Thursday by County Finance Director Jason Bennett at the commission’s regular business meeting.

The proposed budget for the 2015 fiscal year 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 year 2015, that will be a reduction of $449,618, largely brought about by the county refinancing its debt at lower interest rates available in recent years along with the county’s improving bond rating.

“The bond issue for the new high school will take that back up,” Bennett said, although he added “we’re in good shape.” Bennett was referring to the bonds which will be issued to pay for a planned new Allegany High School to be built in the next few years and scheduled to open in fall 2017.

Education funding, mostly for county public schools and Allegany College of Maryland dominate the county’s budget. At 46.5 percent, or nearly $37 million of the county’s budget, education funding is the single largest expenditure for Allegany County, Bennett 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, Bennett said.

The low cost of county government administration shows that tax dollars are being put to work, Bennett said.

The Board of Education will not receive the 3 percent, or $909,499, increase from the county 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.

The board’s proposed operating budget is $110,385,615 for fiscal 2015. The county plans to give the board $29,418,144 for fiscal 2015, down from $29,770,045 for 2014.

While most outside agencies will be flat funded, a few will 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 school that was developed with the county to increase school security.

Allegany County health officer Sue Raver requested $1,451,004 from the county which, after all of last year’s county funding is considered, is an increase of $48,386 over the current fiscal year. Most of the department’s funding comes from the state and federal government.

Also fully funded was the request by the county detention center. The center needed at least $115,323 to cover costs of a pay increase negotiated with staff and additional funding for a new fence. The contract was negotiated between the county and correctional officers represented by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 144. Of 75 staff members at the jail, 67 officers would be covered by the union contract.

Receiving some added funding, though not their full requested amounts, were the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Allegany County Library System.

Bennett pointed out that no new county staff positions have been created in the budget.

On the revenue side, 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, according to information presented by Bennett. 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.

“We’re flat on virtually every other revenue source ... we’ve had a difficult year,” Bennett said.

County income tax revenue, though, took a nosedive down $858,711, Bennett said.

Commissioners lowered the property tax rate for the fourth year in a row by a tenth of a cent.

“If not the only county, we’re one of the few counties in the state to do that,” Bennett said.

The budget is scheduled to be approved by commissioners on June 5. Time for public comment will be available at the May 8 and May 15 commission meetings, Bennett said.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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