The Calvert County Board of Commissioners adopted a $160.7 million budget for fiscal 2005 on Tuesday that will be funded with no increase in property taxes.
The spending plan, supported by all five commissioners, includes $158.5 million for operating expenses and $2.2 million for short-term capital improvement projects. It takes effect July 1.
The total represents a 6.3 percent increase over the current budget of $151.6 million, which included $149.1 million for operating expenses and $2.5 million for short-term capital improvements.
Commissioners President David F. Hale (R-Owings) called the final vote on the budget, which occurred in a mostly empty meeting room, "anticlimactic," noting that the final document "represents about nine months' worth of work by staff."
The budget controversy of recent years was absent this time. A year ago, the commissioners drew criticism for raising or imposing an array of taxes and fees. This year, while they did increase the monthly 911 system fee paid in county residents' telephone bills from 50 cents to 75 cents, they left property taxes alone.
Education funding -- often a hot-button issue -- was taken out of the spending debate because the commissioners had decided earlier to fully fund the Board of Education's request. At last week's budget hearing, the commissioners received praise for increasing education funding by $4.5 million, the amount sought by the school board.
The commissioners even avoided the wrath of county employees by reversing an earlier vote to grant minimal pay raises. The commissioners changed their position after new economic forecasts projected an unexpected increase in revenue.
Employees will receive a 2 percent raise, and the increase will be incorporated into the overall pay system and become part of the base for adjustments in future years. Just a month ago, a majority of the five commissioners had voted to give employees a one-time lump-sum payment.
Terry Shannon, the county's director of administration and finance, explained last week that the commissioners' change of heart was prompted by the improved revenue picture, including projections of increased income tax payments during fiscal 2005.
For the first time since fiscal 1998, the county did not have to use reserve funds to balance the budget, said a memo to the commissioners by Tammy McCourt, the county's budget analyst.
The Calvert budget vote follows action in St. Mary's County, where two weeks earlier county commissioners adopted a $138.6 million budget for the year beginning July 1. Last month, Charles County commissioners adopted a $213.6 million budget for fiscal 2005.
At the beginning of this year's Calvert budget process, county staff members estimated the revenue shortfall facing the county at $9.2 million. That number dropped by two-thirds when Calvert officials learned that the county would continue to receive a state reimbursement for revenue lost because of the deregulation of electric utilities. Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, the county's biggest taxpayer, pays about $6.1 million less each year to Calvert because of deregulation.
The adoption of the fiscal 2005 budget does not mean an end to major funding issues. Many people came to last week's budget hearing to voice support for a proposal that would involve county funding of a new Boys & Girls Club in North Beach. Though the commissioners did not approve the last-minute request from the Boys & Girls Club of Calvert County for funds in the new budget, they have agreed to consider such a proposal in the coming fiscal year.
The commissioners are also being asked to decide soon whether to expand or renovate the Calvert County Detention Center. However, on Tuesday, the commissioners rejected a request to hire a consulting firm to begin drawing plans for the project so that the county can meet a deadline to apply for matching state funds.
"I'm not prepared to move forward with a major capital program in the next two weeks," Commissioner Linda L. Kelley (R-At Large) said.
Instead, the commissioners will meet soon with staff members to continue debating whether to advance the project.