The Frederick County Council unanimously voted to approve the fiscal 2020 operating and capital budgets Tuesday night, but one council member’s no vote prevented that result regarding the county tax rate.

Council members voted 7-0 on the operating budget — the general fund being roughly $637.7 million — and the capital budget, roughly $186.6 million. Including other funds, the operating and capital funds totaled roughly $1.1 billion.

Councilman Phil Dacey (R) voted yes for the budget, but no on keeping the property tax rate level at $1.06 per $100 of assessed value. The council voted 6-1 on that rate.

Dacey said after the meeting that he voted yes on the budget because he agreed with most of the items in it, including teachers’ salaries.

“I got two kids in public school, and [I’m] the son of a teacher,” Dacey said. “I know how hard they work, and comparably, they have been underpaid. I would hate to send the signal I don’t support [higher teacher salaries], because I do.”

At the meeting, several council members voiced their support for the budget. That included Councilman Jerry Donald (D) and Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D), who noted it was a “lean” year on the operating side but that the budget did a good job of investing in education, public safety and other priorities.

“I think this budget is approving things we most desperately need on the capital side,” Donald said, noting library projects, schools and other facilities.

One area that Dacey and council Vice President Michael Blue (R) said needed improvement is the amount of base budget information available, and time required to work through budget season. Dacey said that when he was an alderman for the city of Frederick, he had more hands-on involvement and information during the budget process.

Blue supported the budget, but appreciated Dacey and McKay’s efforts to trim the budget to reach the constant yield tax rate of $1.0508. He also believes the council needs more time to evaluate the budget, as the county commissioners did before the switch to charter government.

“We really should have almost a week. The county commissioners took off ... a whole week to go over the budget process. It’s just not enough time,” Blue said.

Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) said she and her colleagues will look at tweaking the budget process in the future, including offering more base budget information.

She added that the process was more collaborative than in the past, as council members worked together to determine how money was allocated between different divisions.

Keegan-Ayer pointed to familiar topics as highlights of this year’s budget.

“This council and county executive are placing a huge priority on our emergency responders and making sure that our people can be there in a timely fashion when our residents are in a crisis, and funding our schools,” she said. “Those are the two big priorities, and we just continue to fund them because we got so far in the hole during the recession and the last Board of County Commissioners.”

Council approves McKay’s DRRA bill

After brief discussion, the council voted 6-1 to approve Councilman Steve McKay’s (R) development, rights and responsibilities agreement (DRRA) bill.

Council members thanked McKay for working on the bill. County Executive Jan Gardner (D) introduced a variation of the bill in January, and then McKay introduced it on her behalf in March.

Dacey, as he said before, voted no because he “philosophically” didn’t believe in constraining the county’s ability to negotiate with developers.

The bill awaits County Executive Gardner's signature. Gardner has said she won’t veto the bill.

Follow Steve Bohnel on Twitter: @Steve_Bohnel.

Steve Bohnel is the county government reporter for the Frederick News-Post. He can be reached at sbohnel@newspost.com. He graduated from Temple University, with a journalism degree in May 2017, and is a die-hard Everton F.C. fan.

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