- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Employee salaries currently budgeted to remain flat
By AMANDA SCOTT
The county is facing financial hardship this coming fiscal year, including a projected $6.4 million deficit with requests for funding still coming in from the school system and no salary increases for county employees.
On Tuesday, the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners were briefed on the staff’s recommended budget thus far for fiscal 2015 that will be finalized and presented during a public hearing at 7 p.m. March 18 at Calvert Pines Senior Center in Prince Frederick.
The staff recommended budget, as presented Tuesday, reflected a $6.4 million deficit, down from the previously projected $10 million deficit, due to better-than-expected property assessments and removing $1.6 million for salary adjustments for county employees.
“Salary increases are one of the last things on our list when we’re looking for savings ideas,” Director of Finance and Budget Tim Hayden told the commissioners. “In that framework, finding expense reductions is very difficult. Not increasing ongoing expenses is the best idea that we can offer you today. … We had hoped to leave these increases in the budget, but it would be irresponsible to recommend using fund balance or savings to pay for an ongoing expense.”
Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) said he wanted to remind county employees that the budget presented Tuesday “is just what it said it is: a staff-recommended budget. The reality of it is there is a good possibility there won’t be [salary adjustments], and there’s a possibility there might be.”
Commissioners’ Vice President Steve Weems (R) said, “I want salary increases for everyone, but it is what it is at this point.”
Some factors generating that $6.4 million deficit, Hayden said, are the continuation of very low money market rates costing about $200,000 and salary increases related to the Calvert Circuit Court expansion costing about $300,000, as of Tuesday’s projections.
Fiscal 2015’s revenues are similar to fiscal 2014’s, but the expenses still are increasing, according to the presentation. Currently, the county’s fiscal ’15 revenues are about $233,637,086 while the expenses are projected at $240,051,565.
Hayden said his department has received department requests and is beginning to weed through them; however, “there are many budget requests that do not fit within this plan, and they’ll be tough to deny. … There’s no slack. This is about the sixth year of being in that position where the expenses are growing faster than the revenues, and we believe all the easy answers are gone. We believe after six years we’ve found them all.”
One request not calculated into the presentation Tuesday was a request the commissioners received from the Calvert County Board of Education for $1.1 million to implement new school assessments known as Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.
CCPS “has conducted a thorough needs analysis to ensure the infrastructure support is in place for these assessments. The estimated costs in preparation for the full implementation of the PARCC assessments was originally $3.1 [million]. After careful review and consideration of all available options, we feel that we can fully implement this program for $1.1 [million],” according to a letter addressed to the board from Calvert County Public Schools interim superintendent Nancy V. Highsmith and school board President Eugene Karol.
In a staff memo to the commissioners about the school board’s request, staff recommended the board consider this as an unresolved budget issue to gain further information regarding the implementation and the progress that’s been made on the PARCC assessments by the school system.
During the commissioners’ discussion of the request, Clark said, “Obviously, we need to take your recommendation and assign this as an unresolved budget issue so that you can have further discussion with the board of education, and we can take it under advisement as to where we’re going to go on this. Or, we can dismiss it out of hand right now.”
Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) pointed out that PARCC is an unfunded mandate from the state and that “I favor the position that we ought to encourage our board of education to push back on the state. You know, not everything that the state imposes we have to just accept. I think there are times that we have to push back, and I think this is one the board of education ought to push back on.”
Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) responded, saying, “We can push back on it, but if it’s a law — and it is a mandate that’s coming from the state that the board of education has to start implementing … the bottom line here is we do not have this money.”
The commissioners unanimously approved to classify the $1.1 million board of education request as an unresolved budget item at this time.
Finance and Budget Deputy Director Joan Thorp told the commissioners that another challenge the county is facing financially in the upcoming fiscal year is that the county is seeing “diminishing returns” on deferred purchases, such as using vehicles longer and making repairs. The problem, she said, is that the repairs are becoming too expensive.
In the past few fiscal years, Hayden said the county has been able to prefund some expenses for the next fiscal year in the current fiscal year, but “at this time, we don’t believe we’ll be able to do the same kind of prefunding because we don’t foresee any additional revenues in fiscal 2014 that would help us do it again.”
Hayden concluded his presentation, saying, “We’re very close to being able to present a structurally balanced budget.” But the commissioners still expressed concerns about the $6.4 million deficit.
Shaw said the deficit doesn’t include the school board’s $1.1 million request the commissioners voted to classify as unresolved earlier in the meeting, to which Slaughenhoupt said, “And [the deficit] could quickly ratchet up to $10 million.”