Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

December 18, 2013

This plan would keep Garrett schools open

What follows is the result of much thought, a realization that mutual cooperation must be the standard practice, and an encouraging conclusion to a long debate.

This is a great day for Garrett County.

Projected revenue for county government shows contracted growth that will limit funding for all areas of public service directly funded by the county commissioners.

This includes public health, public works, public safety, public education, and general administration. Estimates show that succeeding budget years will provide limited financial resources.

Over the past month the commissioners have focused attention on long term budget planning.

Every department head has offered constructive input and valid suggestions on how to reduce expenses.

Plans are for county government to reduce Fiscal Year 2015 expenses by $500,000. The commissioners are confident this goal can be met.

It has been a primary objective of budget deliberations to develop a comprehensive funding model that will allow the Garrett County public school system to keep all schools open. The commissioners are now at a point that this objective can be met.

On behalf of the commissioners, the county administrator and Department of Financial Services prepared a budget forecast which was shared with school system staff.

It disclosed that forthcoming fiscal years will provide limited financial resources; however, the county will be able to accomplish and continue its goal of providing essential funding to all areas of the budget.

Garrett County government is in very good financial condition — evident of numerous indicators and our plan of financial operation must continue. Budget planning is not a one-year plan.

We must be realistic about the challenges while remaining optimistic about our solutions. The decisions are not easy and solutions will require insight and sacrifice.

However, the benefit of making these tough decisions will help us to work with a budget that creates a permanent, structurally sound financial plan for the future.

If we are going to move forward we have to agree that we can no longer rely on past successes and short-term fixes that may compound problems and lead to ongoing financial uncertainty.

We must bring uncertainty to realization. We have not allowed this to happen and I believe the opportunities outweigh the challenges.

The commissioners will approve additional funding to the school system for Fiscal 2015 that will be equivalent to the projected $2.2 million deficit.

To balance this funding gap, $500,000 will be appropriated from reductions in county government expenses. The school system will be required to reduce operating expenses by $200,000.

$1.5 million will be appropriated from the county’s fund balance unless State of Maryland — Loss Limitation funds are approved that will offset this amount.

The county will again be required to fund the cost for the teacher pension expense with an added $235,330 for a total mandate of $1,077,874 for Fiscal Year 2015.

The commissioners set two conditions on this plan:

• The first is that the school system remains a participant in the county employee health care coalition, which includes county government, the school system and Garrett College.

The county and the college agree that the coalition remain as it has been since 2005 when it was established to provide affordable and quality health care benefits to employees, dependents, and retirees.

• The second is that the board of education discontinues plans to close any elementary or secondary school in Fiscal 2015.

Outgoing year financial projections (prepared by the department of financial services) confirm that the county can provide operating funding to the school system that is equal to Fiscal Year 2015.

Therefore, the commissioners ask the board of education to keep all public schools open as long as this funding level is approved and appropriated.

Monty Pagenhardt

Garrett County administrator, on behalf of the Garrett County Commissioners

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