With 22 days to spare, the Calvert County commissioners on Tuesday finalized the county government’s general fund operating budget for the next fiscal year.
The unanimous approval of the $327.9 million fiscal 2022 budget comes after two public hearings were held and the commissioners debated the best strategy for earmarking a significant windfall in the category of income tax revenue.
The plan designates more funding for local education, law enforcement and public safety, but still lowers the property tax rate for residents.
In a memo to the commissioners, Beth Richmond, deputy finance and budget director, stated, “Overall, the revenue to fund the budget increased by approximately $9.4 million, in comparison to the FY 2021 adopted general fund budget.”
The additions include an $8.5 million increase related to income taxes.
“Funding toward education remains the primary focus of this budget,” Richmond stated. “Education funding for operations of $134.7 million is provided, which is $2.3 million above the state-mandated maintenance of effort funding level.”
At the July 1 start of the new fiscal year, the county’s operating budget will have 46.6 new positions, including 31.55 in public safety. Most of the new positions were awarded during the current fiscal year.
Commissioner Thomas E. “Tim” Hutchins (R), who later in the meeting announced his resignation from the board, had some parting words for his four colleagues regarding their next budget.
He advised they strongly consider using bonding authority “for long-term capital projects.”
On other fiduciary matters, Hutchins stated that the county’s allocation to the College of Southern Maryland “needs to be front-loaded on an annual basis.” During the budget process, county staff and the other commissioners balked at allocating CSM its request for additional funding for fiscal 2022. It was at Hutchins’ urging that the commissioners added $93,000 to the county’s allocation to the community college. Originally, Calvert was only offering flat-funding totaling $4.64 million for the next fiscal year. The board also agreed to find an additional $225,000 to provide tuition assistance to Calvert residents enrolled at the community college.
Hutchins noted Calvert’s commissioners will need to devise a funding formula for the sheriff’s office and examine the “metrics” of all law enforcement agencies serving the county.
He also recommended the county consider transitioning to home rule form of government. If Calvert were to become a charter government county, it could create its own debt and would not need to go to the state legislature to create its own debt. In 2004, Calvert voters were asked to consider adopting “code home rule,” a hybrid style of the county charter and county commissioner form of government. The referendum question was soundly defeated.
“There are many needs and wants,” said Commissioner President Earl F. “Buddy” Hance (R), adding that in order to balance the budget, government departments had to each apply a 3% cut to their requested budgets.
Hance stated the budget process for fiscal 2023 is looming and revenues from the payment in lieu of taxes deal with the owners of the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas terminal in Lusby will begin a precipitous drop.