To kick off the Frederick County Council’s budget workshops, the members were presented with a draft ordinance that would change the county’s budget processes.
Specifically, the council is considering language that would give county staff more flexibility throughout the year when it comes to technical issues such as accepting grants that come in higher than anticipated or moving money for approved expenses from one account to another.
In other Maryland counties, these streamlining efforts are approved in the annual budget ordinance that allows the counties’ budgets to take effect.
Budget Director Rick Harcum said Frederick County’s budget ordinance in the three years so far under charter government has typically been one paragraph long; in neighboring Montgomery County, the annual budget ordinance bill can be longer than 60 pages, with other counties falling somewhere in between.
Council members said they were open to some changes in this year’s budget ordinance, with a limit on the amount of variance that could be handled administratively without coming back before them at a formal meeting.
Currently, if the county receives a planned grant at an amount higher than budgeted — even just $50 — that item is brought to a council agenda. Adding streamlining language will save staff and council time, Harcum said.
He noted that there were 141 budget transfers that were brought to the council in Frederick County last year, compared with 19 transfers in Cecil County, which is often used as a benchmark for comparison. Any major changes or items that are outside the course of normal county business would still come to the council, Harcum said.
The exact language of a proposed budget ordinance will be discussed by the council at a future meeting.
The council met for a nearly five-hour workshop on Wednesday to examine County Executive Jan Gardner’s budget proposal for 10 county offices, including first responders, economic development and Frederick Community College.
A similar workshop will be held starting at 9 a.m. Thursday for nine offices, including permitting, Frederick County Public Schools, libraries and others.
The proposed $581.9 million budget includes an increase in education and public safety spending, additional county employees and a 2 percent boost in county employee salaries. The budget proposal is a nearly 3.9 percent, or almost $21.7 million, increase over this year’s spending plan.
The council is scheduled to begin considering amendments to the budget next week, with final passage of the budget coming as early as May 16.
A final budget must be approved by the County Council by May 31, under the Frederick County Charter.
The council can decrease or delete funding in the county executive’s proposed budget, but generally cannot increase or add expenditures, except for education.
The budget will take effect with the start of the county’s fiscal year on July 1.