- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Charles County commissioners received budget proposals Tuesday from its three education entities — the public school system, College of Southern Maryland and public library — which collectively represent more than half of the total $375 million requested from various agencies for fiscal 2014.
The requested budget represents a 15.4 percent increase over the county’s current $325 million budget. With only $324.3 million in anticipated revenue, if the commissioners granted each agency’s budget request in full, the county would run at a projected $51 million deficit next year, Fiscal and Administrative Services Director Deborah Hudson said.
“So as you can see, we have some work to do over the next several weeks,” she added.
The county expects to receive $186.3 million in property taxes — $7.2 million less than last year — and $104 million in income taxes, nearly a $6 million increase. Overall, property and income taxes make up 57.4 and 32.1 percent of projected revenues, respectively. Revenues are expected to decline 0.4 percent from last year.
“It’s slightly below flatline for revenues for next year, so we just don’t have a whole lot of extra money,” Chief of Budget David Eicholtz said. “Actually, we don’t have any extra money.”
Charles County Public Schools presented its proposed $339.6 million fiscal 2014 budget, a 7.6 percent increase over its current $315.6 million budget. The proposal asks the county for $177.4 million, $23.4 million more than it received in its 2013 budget, a 15 percent increase and roughly twice the amount of any previous increase since 1998. Last year, the system asked the county for an $8 million budget increase.
“The [Charles County] Board of Education understands the continuing economic challenges affecting the nation, state and county,” Chairwoman Roberta S. Wise said. “However, economic recovery and growth relies heavily on the continued success of our schools.”
The request represents 47 percent of the county’s total requested budget, which also includes $85 million for the Charles County Sheriff’s Office — 22.7 percent of the total — and $51.5 million for the local government, or 13.7 percent.
For every dollar the school system spends, 66 cents goes toward classroom instruction. Student transportation and school administration each cost 9 cents, while 12 cents pays for facility maintenance, operations and capital outlay.
It expects to spend 10 percent more on employee health insurance for a total of more than $31 million, more than $5 million to support its share of teachers’ pensions — up $1 million from this year — and an additional $4 million on retirement benefits.
The system also is asking for $2 million in school security upgrades — including elementary school security cameras — $1.8 million in technology infrastructure needed to meet the federal Race to the Top program’s online testing requirements and $725,000 to reinstate the Summer Reading Academy. It also wants $600,000 to phase in school resource officers at elementary schools and the Robert D. Stethem Educational Center in Pomfret.
The system also plans to set aside $9.5 million to account for upcoming union contract negotiations, which will include two pay increases that were eliminated from previous budgets.
It expects to lose $758,400 in federal funding, an 8.2 percent decrease, as a result of $85 billion in federal budget cuts, commonly known as sequestration.
The proposed budget includes $427,700 to hire a principal, director and technology coordinator for the new St. Charles High School set to open in fall 2014, and more than $24 million in transportation costs, an $858,000 increase. The budgeted funds will cover an average fuel price of $4.25 per gallon. It costs the school system $220,000 every time gas prices go up 25 cents.
The per pupil cost during the current fiscal year increased 3.1 percent to $12,157. Though enrollment has decreased slightly in the last two years, the school system is anticipating a 0.4 percent increase of 102 students next year.
The College of Southern Maryland is asking the county for $10.3 million to support its La Plata campus in fiscal 2014, a 9.47 percent increase over the current budget. The college does not plan to increase its tuition next year. The request assumes flat tuition rates, and the college expects flat enrollment.
The budget request includes more than $745,000 to fund the opening of and up to four months of operating expenses for the college’s new career education building, which is expected to open about a year from now at its La Plata campus and provide four times the space of the old building, CSM President Brad Gottfried said.
“It’s going to really allow us to get more heavily into workforce development issues in Charles County,” he said.
The Charles County Public Library is requesting $3.7 million from the county for fiscal 2014, a 14.2 percent increase. Its $5.3 million proposed 2014 budget represents a 4.9 percent increase.
The libraries hope to spend $274,000 in books next year, an increase of $50,000.
Libraries Director Emily Ferren expressed pride in the new Waldorf West branch becoming the first county building to earn LEED certification.
“I’m really pleased to say the library system is finally the first,” she said.