Calvert County commissioners could decide this week whether to grant any of the $13.6 million in requests for additional funding on top of what is proposed in the $152 million county budget plan for operating expenses and short-term capital projects in fiscal 2004.
On Tuesday, the commissioners are scheduled to vote on each of the unresolved funding requests from agency heads, elected officials and others. Those votes will determine how much -- if any -- spending will be added to the budget proposal developed by county fiscal staff members. Those decisions also will include whether to give the Board of Education an additional $1.2 million for operating expenses.
Commissioners President David F. Hale (R-Owings) said Friday that he intends to ask the commissioners "to say yea or nay to each" of the unresolved issues during the afternoon budget work session. County staff had asked the commissioners to decide on the unresolved issues by Tuesday, although the commissioners could hold off on final votes.
"They may want to wait until the state budget is settled," Hale said.
Last Tuesday at a public hearing, county staffers introduced their spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1. That proposed budget, which includes $147.2 million for operating expenses and $4.8 million for short-term capital improvement projects, does not call for tax increases for residents.
But it also does not account for potential pay raises for county employees. At Tuesday's public hearing, a representative of Calvert County employees formally asked the Board of Commissioners to increase their pay by 4 percent in fiscal 2004, the same raise being given to local teachers and other school workers.
"Their cost of living is no higher than ours," Ruthie Buckler, chair of the Calvert Employee Representative Committee, said in an interview.
County employees received a 4 percent raise under the current budget. An equal increase this fiscal year would add $1.1 million to the budget.
The current county budget is $147.5 million, including $6.8 million marked for capital projects. The portion of the 2004 budget dedicated to areas other than education is $71.5 million.
One guiding principle of the fiscal 2004 budget proposal was a county government-wide effort not to increase operational costs, except when sanctioned by county commissioners' policy decisions.
The rest of the staff budget -- more than half at $80.5 million -- would go to the Board of Education, a $3.7 million increase over the current spending level. The education total includes $76.4 million for operating expenses -- compared with $73.4 million this year -- as well as funding for capital projects and debt service for education-related bonds, a county official said.
Other unresolved issues facing the commissioners include whether to add $766,182 to the sheriff's office budget, money that largely would go toward salaries and benefits for five new full-time staff members. Four of those new positions would be sworn officers and one position would be a civilian grants writer. The sheriff's office already has trimmed $457,205 from its request for additional funding.
Any wage increases for officers and other sheriff's employees also would require an increase in spending authority.
Another decision facing the commissioners is whether to approve $170,000 in property tax incentives for 113 volunteer firefighters.
The commissioners are on course to hold a public hearing on their budget May 13, with a final vote scheduled two weeks later on May 27.
The county anticipates $140.1 million in revenue during the next fiscal year, including $6.1 million in anticipated state reimbursements for revenue lost because of state deregulation of electrical utilities. The county is awaiting a final decision on the state budget to see whether it will receive those funds, which are intended as compensation for tax revenue lost from Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant after deregulation.
To balance the budget, the staff proposes using about $11.9 million in reserve funds.