While supervisors have tentatively added $2.6 million to County Administrator Tim Hemstreet’s proposed $2.5 billion fiscal year 2018 budget, so far it has only cost them $450,234.
After years of population growth coupled with lagging local revenues have left many county departments understaffed, the county administrator and some supervisors are trying to use this year’s budget to shore up overworked county offices. Hemstreet has proposed a real estate tax rate of $1.135 per $100 of assessed value—a penny beneath the current year’s tax rates.
But with the county finally seeing growing revenues—in large part attributed to steady growth in business—that tax rate still left room for $9.6 million in expansions in the county budget in the proposed budget, with $978,868 left over before supervisors would have to increase the tax rate.
Then supervisors got to work. And although they have approved several new positions and expenses beyond the proposed budget—such as $600,000 for supported employment and day support contracts like Every Citizen Has Opportunities, Inc. and $215,013 for two new Fire Marshal’s Office inspectors—they have also found places to recover $2.2 million.
First, word came that the county could expect $635,000 in increased state funding for schools, carving a chunk out of the county’s transfer to the school system. Then, a surplus of nearly $24 million in the school system’s self-insurance fund was redirected and channeled into paying for two turf fields and for school buses, adding another $1.3 million back into the budget. New fields at Briar Woods and Freedom high schools, the last two schools without artificial turf, are planned for fiscal year 2019, having been moved up from 2021 and 2022.
Adding $75,019 for a new civil case clerk to the Clerk of Court’s budget on Monday allowed the county to cut $10,000 from that office’s overtime budget, and supervisors also removed $110,070 that Hemstreet proposed to hire a transportation public information officer.
Along with cutting a proposed workforce planning team in human resources from two positions to one, and moving a salary increase for planning commissioners to a future finance committee discussion, the board has so far mitigated all but a fraction of its increases.
Fire Rescue Staffing Catching Up
The Department of Fire, Rescue, and Emergency Services has been struggling to establish a staffing factor—hiring slightly more employees than there are positions, compensating for absences attributed to sickness, injury or vacation, without having to dip into more expensive overtime pay.
Unless supervisors make cuts after the unofficial straw polls are done, that department will get an additional $653,336 to add crew to the Kirkpatrick Farms Fire-Rescue Station, working toward that staffing factor, and to hire two more safety inspectors. That funding is an addition to the 14.5 percent increase, to $75.8 million, that Hemstreet proposed for the department.
The department also will benefit from a $9,600 transfer from the Board of Supervisors’ budget. County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) proposed an initiative to increase the pot of money available to reimburse fire and rescue volunteers for college tuition from $20,600 to $50,000 annually by the end of the board’s term. Supervisors agreed the proposal may have merit as a recruitment and retention tool, but preferred to examine the impact of the program outside the budget talks, suggesting the finance committee take it up. That path was cemented when Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) volunteered to transfer the $9,600 from her district office budget to provide the fiscal year 2018 boost. That brought one of the night’s rare unanimous votes.
Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run), who has stated his intent to reduce the real estate tax rate to $1.125 by cutting at least $7.6 million from Hemstreet’s budget proposal, voted against the fire-rescue staffing increases. He also sought to cut the number of new dispatcher positions in the budget from 5.6 to 3.6 to save $134,000, but got no support. Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) joined Meyer in opposing funding for the two inspector positions.
Planning Commission Raises Put on Hold
Hemstreet’s proposed budget had added $4,634 to the planning department to provide raises to the chairman and vice chairman of the Planning Commission. Supervisors were surprised to find the change, which had been requested by the commission, buried in the budget without the request first coming to them for approval. Supervisors, who are planning a debate over whether to raise compensation for the next board, said the commission’s stipends should be examined as part of a more comprehensive review. Supervisors said raises for the commissioners are likely, but the board’s finance committee will take a look at it first.
Departments Play Catch Up
The county is also using the opportunity of the flush budget year to catch up on many of the behind-the-scenes jobs in the county. Supervisors have tentatively voted to include a capital budget analyst and a grants coordinator to the Department of Management and Budget; a planning technician and a utility engineer to the Department of Planning and Zoning; a management analyst to the Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure; a benefits specialist to Human Resources; and an account receivable administrator to the finance and procurement department.
Constitutional officers have also seen some bumps in their office budgets. County Treasurer H. Roger Zurn will receive $71,085 to hire an information services assistant. Clerk of the Circuit Court Gary Clemens will hire a civil case management clerk, allowing the county to remove $10,000 from his overtime budget, for a total addition of $65,109 to his budget. Commissioner of the Revenue Robert Wertz will receive $75,160 to hire a tax exemptions and deferral specialist.
Supervisors still have seven departmental budgets to examine, with three work sessions remaining: Thursday, March 16; Monday, March 20; and Wednesday, March 22. A final budget vote is expected April 4. The county has only $528,634 unallocated before supervisors will have to contemplate a tax rate higher than $1.135; however, the county can only go as high as $1.140 without advertising a higher rate and significantly delaying the budget vote. Each penny increase in this year’s tax rate is expected to add about $7.6 million to county revenues.
The current year’s tax rate, by comparison, is $1.145.