- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Charles County would face a $20.8 million budget deficit if each county department got all of the funding it has requested, county staffers told the county commissioners Tuesday.
As it is, a recommended fiscal 2013 budget is $5.5 million short, requiring either tax hikes or spending cuts to close the gap before the board adopts the budget June 26.
Fiscal and Administrative Services Director Deborah Hudson and Budget Chief David Eicholtz presented four possible scenarios, one of which entails no property tax increase and steep spending cuts, and another of which includes raises for almost all county workers but requires a 5.1 percent property tax increase to fill a deficit that then would rise to $9.9 million.
“It’s important, the funding for the teachers’ pension is included in all these options. It’s mandated; it’s required by the state and it is not an option for the commissioners to take out,” Hudson said.
During its last session, the Maryland General Assembly passed part of the costs of teacher pensions to local governments. Charles County’s share for fiscal 2013 is $1.3 million.
Commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) suggested that the highest tax increase, of 5.45 cents per $100 of assessed value, wouldn’t be so bad. The current tax rate is $1.0665, and the increase would let the county government keep all of its current projects while giving raises to deputies, teachers and county government workers.
The proposed 5.45 cent increase “comes out to about 2.3 cents a day. Just thought I’d make that point, OK?” she said.
Eicholtz said the highest tax increase would be the “best option.”
“Somehow we didn’t practice this, but I got [to present] the worst option and the best option,” Eicholtz said, referring to the no-tax-increase option as worst.
“Depends on how you look at it,” Kelly (D) said.
“Depends on how you look at it,” Eicholtz agreed.
The most frugal proposal would balance the budget using drastic cuts. To achieve this, the commissioners would have to choose several options among a list including canceling the opening of the new Waldorf West Library, neglecting employee pension and other post-employment benefit obligations, giving no raises, and providing less money than needed for fuel for the VanGO mass transit program.
A proposal endorsed by County Administrator Rebecca Bridgett attempts to steer a middle course, raising the property tax rate by 3.04 cents to raise $5.5 million, avoiding cuts. That scenario would deny Charles County public school teachers a one-step increase proposed in the most expensive budget, but grant other county employees a one-step raise and Charles County sheriff’s deputies a three-step raise.
A similar proposal would give teachers a one-step raise, costing $2.2 million, by increasing the tax rate by 3.65 cents to raise $6.6 million and eliminating county employee raises to save $874,000.
The commissioners can adopt any of the four proposals or craft one of their own.
“This isn’t easy stuff. I hope the public understands we’re trying to address these issues,” said Commissioner Reuben B. Collins II (D).
“I concur with Commissioner Collins. This is like budgeting for dummies. I really appreciate, you guys have an uncanny way of breaking it down for us. I really appreciate you letting us know exactly what our options are,” said Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D).
The commissioners held a public hearing on the budget Tuesday night and must pass a balanced fiscal 2013 budget by June 26.