Fate of St. Mary's County Budget To Be Determined

By Guy Leonard, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (May 1, 2008)—As the St. Mary’s Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) work to finalize the fiscal 2009 budget, it is unclear if they will be able to provide tax relief for citizens or if the $327.5 million budget will stay as it is.

With revenues from the state likely to be stagnant or shrinking, said Commissioner Thomas A. Mattingly (D-Leonardtown), there will be little chance of cutting taxes.

He said it is unlikely that the county will choose to reinstitute the constant yield tax rate, which ensured that while property assessments would go up, the rate would be reduced by a corresponding amount to ensure residents would not have to pay more in property taxes.

Residents in certain parts of the county will also have to pay a higher rate on the fire and rescue tax if the budget is passed unchanged to help pay for operations at local emergency response companies.

In the late 1990’s, Mattingly said, this practice helped the county fall into financially tough times for lack of revenue collection.

“If it were anything at all [tax relief] It would be minimal I think,” Mattingly told The County Times. “You’ve got to be looking beyond this year’s budget and into funding future budgets.”

The BOCC will hold a series of work sessions on the budget starting May 5 before adopting the final budget in June.

Commissioner Daniel H. Raley (D-Great Mills) held out hopes that the commissioners would be able to find some room for tax relief in the budget as well as for cutting some expenditures, though he would not give specific examples.

Raley said he hoped to pare down the proposed debt of $35 million the county planned to borrow from the bond market in the near future for the construction of capital projects.

He said he was wary of saddling the county with too much debt, especially in tough economic times.

Raley said the commissioners could choose to use money from the county’s fund balance of about $13 million to help pay for facilities construction.

“Is the budget a done deal?” Raley said “No… I still believe there’s a significant amount of work to do.”

Commissioner Lawrence D. Jarboe (R-Golden Beach), the only commissioner to vote against taking the budget to the public hearing process, said the county’s budget was more representative of local government expanding than of tightening its belt.

Jarboe pointed to the recent approval of the Office of Human Services, which he voted against, that would bring services like the Local Management Board and the Mental Health Authority under one organization.

“It’s a good example of bureaucracy expanding itself,” Jarboe said. “County government needs to downsize from the top down not the bottom up.”

Jarboe said that despite the board of Commissioners’ willingness to deny various departments extra employees to provide services, they were not willing to cut directors positions by consolidating departments.

Jarboe argued that consolidating the Department of Emergency Management under the Office of the Sheriff and the Department of Economic and Community Development with the Department of Land Use and Growth Management the county could cut some high level positions and still provide necessary services.

“But I don’t see the majority of the board going in that direction,” Jarboe said, who also decried the increase in taxes with little chance of relief for citizens.

“The reality is we have higher taxes,” Jarboe said. “Anyone who has property has seen at least a five-percent or beyond increase in what they’re paying.

“Along with the oil companies, the [county] government will get more money out of the people this time,” Jarboe added.

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