The Garrett County commissioners held a public meeting yesterday evening at Garrett College to review and receive comments on their proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget. About 175 people attended the nearly two-hour event.
County officials have been working on the budget for several months, and the commissioners will officially approve its final version on June 4.
Commission board chair Bob Gatto indicated that the real property tax would remain at the current rate of $.99 per $100 of assessed value for FY ’14. Based on that rate, Department of Financial Services director Wendy Yoder estimates the county’s revenue next fiscal year will be $78.3 million, which is $4.4 million less than in FY ’13.
Most of the county’s revenue is garnered from property taxes, particularly those at Deep Creek Lake. Yoder noted that beginning in January 2014, properties south of the Rt. 219 bridge at the lake will be reassessed.
“This area accounts for about 60 percent of the county’s overall assessable base,” Yoder said.
She indicated this could result in a 15 to 20 percent decline in lakefront property assessments, amounting to about $100,000 per property, in FY ’15. This could equate to an overall 6 percent decrease in county total gross assessable base.
“This decrease translates into a potential loss of $2.9 million in total property tax revenue for the county in Fiscal Year 2015,” Yoder said.
To compensate for the drop in revenue for FY ’14, most county departments can expect to receive the same amount of funding they did in FY ’13, while a few will receive less, in particularly the Roads Department.
County officials are proposing to decrease that department’s allocation by about $156,000. This includes a decrease for winter operations overtime. The department was allocated $490,953 for winter overtime in FY ’13. The proposed allocation for that line item in FY ’14 is $350,000.
Allocations for the Roads Department’s winter abrasive expenses, however, will be increased by $200,000. County administrator Monty Pagenhardt said the increase was for the purchase of additional salt.
The Sheriff’s Office is one of the few departments expected to receive an allocation increase. In FY ’13, the office received $2.8 million, compared to a proposed $3 million in FY ’14. The increase, in part, is the result a new plan to assign resource officers at Southern High School and the Northern High/Middle School Complex. Most of the funding will come from three-year grants.
The Detention Center will also receive increased funding. The proposed FY ’14 allocation is $1.89 million, compared to about $1.82 million in FY ’13. The extra money, in part, is to cover such items as training expenses and increases in medical care for inmates, according to Pagenhardt.
The county will allocate the same amount of funding to the Board of Education in FY ’14 as in FY ’13, $26 million.
“I’ve never seen our financial situation in such a state,” said Garrett County Education Association president Mike Pula, noting that the local public school system continues to see “devastating” funding cuts from Maryland.
He said his group recognizes the commissioners’ financial assistance. Pula noted, however, the “grim” statistics: three schools have been closed, salaries have been frozen, classroom sizes have increased, people have been laid off, and 90 positions have been lost through attrition.
“The long and short of the budget story is: What you’ve done is not enough,” Pula said.
He indicated the BOE will continue to lose millions of dollars from the state and asked the commissioners for their help in maintaining high quality education.
“We’re in serious need of help, and there is just no where else to turn,” Pula said. “We need the board of commissioners to commit to making the school system in Garrett County its priority before anymore of it disappears.”
Commissioner Gatto indicated the commissioners would be meeting with school superintendent Dr. Janet Wilson and the BOE in June to discuss funding issues for FY ’15 and beyond.
“I spent 31 years in the public education system, so I know an awful lot about public schools and I know an awful lot about what teachers face,” Commissioner Jim Raley said. “I also spent 14 years on the school board, so I know an awful lot about the school board’s budget.”
He indicated the key to the county’s revenue woes and increasing its population. More here.