County directors count their blessings
Recent round of budget cuts will not hamper services
It's the time of the year to be thankful, and the holiday sentiment is not lost on Frederick County government department heads, who are counting their blessings after last week's round of budget cuts.
Directors from some of the county's top departments said this week that the Dec. 3 cuts by Frederick County commissioners will not hamper the services they provide.
"We're thrilled they let us keep $300,000," said Jennifer Short, the director of the county's department of Housing and Community Development. "We actually thought they would take more."
Commissioners cut $750,000 from the housing department's budget, leaving Short with $645,000.
The board told Short she can spend $300,000 from that this year and the rest in fiscal 2011, which starts July 1.
Short said having the $300,000 is vital, because most of the federal housing grants they apply for require the county to also put up money.
"I can use that [$300,000] for a county match, and that gives us points on federal loan applications," she said.
Short was one of a room full of county department heads who on Dec. 3, packed the third-floor hearing room of Winchester Hall, the seat of county government, to hear their fate.
"It was kind of expected because of this huge deficit," she said.
Commissioners found themselves again at the table cutting programs and delaying projects, this time looking for $13.2 million to make up a loss largely from state income tax cuts.
Commissioners were forced to find the money in the fiscal 2010 budget of $444 million after learning from the county's budget staff that the dismal job market has had a direct impact on the decline in income tax revenue coming from the state.
Frederick County has received $35.87 million in income taxes from the state this year, according to a staff report, down from $42.44 million the same time last year, a 15 percent reduction.
The county was expecting to receive nearly $151 million in income taxes for fiscal 2010, but county budget staff is re-projecting the total year number to be off by nearly $12 million. They also expect investment income to be down by about $1.25 million.
Staff presented commissioners with a list of potential cuts from the fiscal 2010 budget, which started July 1.
This is not the first time commissioners have been forced to rebalance the operating budget. In September, the board cut $4.7 million out of the budget as a result of state cuts.
Even though the spending cuts are hitting county departments in the middle of the budget year, most say they can take the hit.
"The commissioners were very mindful of the county's transportation needs and were able to balance the budget with minimal impact to the county's transportation projects at this time," Thomas J. Meunier, head of the county's department of Highways and Transportation, said in an e-mail. "Basically, the reductions were fund balances to projects that are or will soon be completed and two alignment studies that have not been started yet."
The cuts include $135,000 on the realignment or reconfiguration of Shockley Drive and Spectrum Drive in Frederick and $193,000 on Boyers Mill Road and Md. Route 75.
In total, commissioners cut $704,759 from the highway department's budget.
Darrell Batson, director of Frederick County Department of Libraries, said the commissioners' cut of $75,000 for a study of a new library in Myersville will not hamper the project.
Batson said he still expects the $4.5 million library to open in 2014. "We still have plenty of time to restore the funding," he said. "The cut does nothing to the intent to build the library."
E-mail Sherry Greenfield at firstname.lastname@example.org.