Cecil County Administration Building, May 24, 2011 — The County Commissioners voted 3 to 2 to approve a 163.2-million budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and 4 to 1 to adopt a property tax rate that reduces property taxes by ½ cent. The new financial plan shrank departmental requests by about $7.7-million, resulting in planned outlays that are about $343,000 less than 2011.
On the levy of .9401-cents, Commissioner Moore was the only member to vote against approval. The official representing the greater Elkton area noted that she couldn’t vote for a tax rate that took a little over almost $1.6-million out of the $9-million reserve fund. “Yesterday’s decision to cut the tax rate and pay for it by taking even more money out of our fund balance sealed my decision. I’m not against this budget because it’s a tax cut. . . . [I]f we’re going to cut taxes it should be a . . . well thought out decision. Introducing and voting to approve a tax rate cut one day before the final decision . . . is foolish and irresponsible.
“If we’re going to cut taxes, we have to cut spending by a corresponding amount or we will simply run out of money,” Moore continued. “That did not happen in his case. For the last ten years on the federal level we’ve been cutting taxes without cutting spending. . . . Today this board will continue that tradition on the local level except we can’t print money like the federal government can. . . . We’re going to spend 40% of the savings that previous boards worked hard to gather to protect us for difficult times that are coming down the road.” Commissioner Hodge added that he agreed but would vote for the tax cut, while voting against the budget. “We’re looking for short-term political gain and not the long-term investment.”
On the budget that reduces county outlays by about $343,000 below 2011, President Mullin and Commissioners Brommell and Dun voted for approval, while Commissioners Hodge and Moore opposed it. “It’s shortsighted and fails to invest in our future” in areas of economic development, efficiency studies, and public safety, Hodge remarked. Stating the board had cut more than it needed to, he added that he supported using the fund balance up to $2-million, but was glad that amount wasn’t necessary. “The lack of investments are going to come back to haunt us. . . . ”
The days of reading, writing, and arithmetic are over,” he continued as he discussed the need to provide strengthened educational opportunities. “The days of Chrysler, General Motors MBNA supporting high school graduates out of our public schools is gone and I doubt that we’ll ever see anything that replaces them. The jobs are going to be in much more advanced degrees and if we don’t prepare them to go further in advanced degrees we will suffer the consequences. There needs to be a cultural change in Cecil County. The attitude of the taxpayers, the parents, the kids needs to change. They need to understand it’s not going to be good enough to have a high school diploma. We are not supporting education to the best of our ability.”
Supporting the cuts, Commissioner Broomell responded that she believes the board was adopting a responsible budget considering the “fiscal environment that we all have to live in. I feel we’ve met our goal in making cuts across the budget, reducing taxes, and the cost of government. This is the relief the voters requested from us.” Commissioner Dunn concurred saying the elected officials filled the “mandate in which we were elected to office. This budget has successful cut taxes and reduced government. At the end of the day we’re returning over a half-million dollars to the taxpayers of Cecil County and made responsible cuts to all area of government totaling over $7-million.”
As each official stated his or her position, a heated exchange occurred between Commissioner Moore and President Mullin. Reflecting on “administrative meetings” where the board discussed the courage that was going to be needed to make decisions, she noted that “There are decisions that are being made based on political reasons and not research and information. . . What I see is a lot of BS. This budget isn’t responsible. . . . I feel it’s hypocritical to sit here and say you passed a responsible budget when you know you haven’t. It’s great if you have corresponding cuts to go along with but that didn’t happen.”
The president countered that he didn’t feel it was prudent for the “five of us as Republicans to sit up here” and argue with each other. “We should do that behind closed doors . . . If you have a problem with any of us or all of us, it should be in a closed session.” The Maryland Open Meetings Board recently determined that the county commissioners violated the state’s sunshine law and the board is quick to rush into exeuctive sessions to discuss public business.
At one point, Moore challenged something the President said, and he remarked, “You have had your five minutes. You called me out in public. I’m going to answer.” As the President explained why he’d changed his vote on a deal that was being considered to restore $314,000” to the Board of Education, Moore remarked, “This is a carefully orchestrated attempt to control things.” With that the chairman banged his gavel, declaring, “You’re out of order.”
Blogger’s Note — We suggest readers listen to the official county audio of the meeting. There were a number of interesting public policy considerations that were debated as the board struggled to make tough decisions in a challenging year. To listen to the meeting, click on the microphone above.
The present board made a decision to place audio of its meetings online earlier this year and that is a most helpful public service, for, whenever they meet in public, anyone may listen in