The Frederick County Council recently approved a $717 million operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The 2022 plan proposed by County Executive Jan Gardner increases spending by nearly 8 percent.
For the seventh straight year, Gardner (D) proposed keeping the county’s property tax rate at $1.06 per $100 of assessed home value, and as in past years, there was some pushback on that decision.
Republican council members Steve McKay and Phil Dacey proposed reducing the rate to $1.033, called the constant yield rate to hold tax collections to the current level. That would have meant cutting more than $6 million from the budget, but the council declined.
The pair raised the issue again during the vote on the overall budget, but it was again shot down. County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) offered a graphic — if somewhat inelegant — reaction: “This horse is dead in the gutter, and it’s a bloody mess now.”
Dacey persisted, and was the only member to vote against the budget, which passed 6-1.
Dacey argued the council had a responsibility to soften the impact of the county’s “skyrocketing” property values, News-Post reporter Jillian Atelsek wrote.
The council member knows that tax increases are cushioned under the current system of tax reassessment. Our properties are reassessed every three years, and then, if the assessment is higher, the increase is phased in over three years. That does soften the impact.
The wisdom of keeping the tax rate flat is that it allows the county to pay for the growth that has been approved, with revenue increasing each year.
Dacey was correct when he said the division within the council comes down to a “philosophical difference.” He argued that, rather than asking how much money the county has available to spend, the council should ask, “What can the county get by on?”
Council member Kai Hagen (D) replied: “Sometimes our goal is a little more than just getting by.”
Council member Jerry Donald (D) said the budget represented a responsible use of taxpayer money. The county spending is growing, he said, because the county is growing. The government needs money to keep up with the needs of a growing population.
We agree with Hagen, Donald and the others voting to allow revenue to rise. We do not see the role of the county government as squeaking by on as little money as possible. The council has the duty to assess programs and projects, approve what needs to be done, and then raise the revenue to pay for it.
While Dacey and McKay criticized Gardner for increasing spending by 18.9 percent over three years, McKay admitted that he supported almost all of the programs in this year’s budget.
The 2022 budget includes about $365 million in education, $21.5 million above the state-required funding. Much of this spending will address the lingering affects of educational disruption caused by the COVID pandemic.
It also includes money for the county health department to open a satellite location on W. Patrick Street to address health disparities and provide services to the largely minority communities of west Frederick.
It sets a new pay scale so all county employees will make at least $15 per hour. It allocates $1 million to boost broadband service in rural areas of the county.
Those are all real needs for real county residents and real county employees. There will be more programs in the future. For example, the county is studying moving its fleet of buses and cars to electric vehicles, to address the issue of carbon pollutions and climate change. That will cost money too.
Yes, often our goal should be “a little more than just getting by.”