In the course of a discussion at a recent Fredrick County Charter Commission meeting, a story was being told that the county's sheriff is so frugal that he turns money back each year to the county coffers. Over the past 10 years, his turn-backs, according to the sheriff and several speakers, who all spoke very authoritatively, have added up to several million dollars. No one wants to have dollars wasted if the budget estimate is off occasionally, but to have this happen every year, appears to show a weakness in the county's budget process.
A situation where budgets are continually being under-spent, and the department head is attempting to weaponize his or her under-spending, then a red flag should go up. The budget process should be able to easily project what the amounts need to be to avoid continual over taxing for that department.
Whether intentional or not, it is certainly leading to a great deal of misunderstanding, especially among taxpayers, most of whom consider consistent mistakes in overtaxing as a sign of flawed budget management.
The county's budget team should be able to recognize if there is a likely annual ”turn-back amount” buried in the FCSO's annual budget request. Since the FCSO's annual budgets show increases every year, it is apparent that something needs to be checked out.
Budget year 2020 is on the horizon, and now seems to be a good time for the county budget team to do a more thorough review. After all, the FCSO may not be the only department following this technique.