Despite the coronavirus pandemic impacting government activity, the county council still has to complete one of its most important tasks in the coming months: adopting a budget.
Multiple County Council members said this week they still need to review much of County Executive Jan Gardner’s proposed budget, which was introduced Wednesday and is about $665.8 million.
Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) said that growth in the budget is needed for multiple areas: roughly 1,100 more students entered Frederick County Public Schools this past year, health and disability insurance costs are rising and staffing costs for the new Northgate fire station that will open later this year, to name some.
Keegan-Ayer said the pandemic has placed the county in uncharted territory, which means the budget has to be looked at differently.
“People agree we need to fund the services we need,” she said.
Council Vice President Michael Blue (R) has expressed concerns about revenue projections because of the coronavirus, including its impact on public safety. One specific issue, he added, was that the county’s volunteer fire companies, which provide assistance to the county’s career firefighters, will find it harder to fundraise at this time.
Ultimately, it’s possible a supplemental budget process will be needed in the coming months, Blue said.
“This is not going to be a normal budget season and so it’s going to be looked and handled completely differently and we’ll have to adjust,” Blue said.
Councilman Jerry Donald (D) also said he’s been asking questions about revenue estimates for fiscal year 2021, which starts July 1.
“My main question is revenue projections and what confidence interval we have in those projections,” Donald said. “A budget is basically a promise, and I don’t want to have to revisit a promise and have to take away things at a later point.”
Last year, Councilman Phil Dacey (R) helped lead an effort to bring the property tax rate down to constant yield, which lowers the tax rate to equal revenue generated from property taxes in the prior fiscal year.
Dacey said given the hardships families are facing because of the coronavirus pandemic, he and colleagues should consider that rate this year.
Overall, the growth in the proposed budget is a concern given economic uncertainties, he said.
“It looks like a business as usual budget, and not a 10 to 15 percent unemployment budget,” Dacey said.
Councilman Kai Hagen (D) said he “had a lot of reading to do” regarding Gardner’s proposal, as the budget is well over 400 pages.
He did suggest, however, eliminating the next pay step for county employees for the next fiscal year, but added that was a preliminary idea.
“I have nothing but extraordinary respect for county staff and I think we are blessed with an outstanding highly functional, very efficient, and productive county government when it comes to providing government services,” Hagen said. “But I have questions about whether or not I could support a step for county employees right now.”
The County Council is scheduled to have a virtual public hearing on the budget on Tuesday at 6 p.m. Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or called in to 301-600-1135.
Longtime county spokesperson retiringThe county’s public information officer announced her retirement earlier this week.
Robin Santangelo, who has worked for the county for more than 18 years, wrote in a Facebook post she was “thankful” to work and help so many county officials and residents in her career.
Santangelo was responsible for crafting many press releases, and could often be seen carrying a camera and photographing senior county officials and others at news briefings and other gatherings. She also worked through the last few terms of the county commissioner form of government and transitioned into charter government.
“Now, I look forward to what God has planned next in my life. Please join me in keeping our officials, county employees and citizens in prayer, especially at this time,” she wrote.
Santangelo directed all inquires for her be directed to Communications Director Vivian Laxton at 301-600-1315 or email at email@example.com.